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Jan 10 2016

Death of Silence

Title: Death of Silence
Author: Jilly James
Fandom: NCIS
Pairing: Anthony DiNozzo/Jethro Gibbs
Content Rating: Mature
Genre: First time, episode related (season 8, episode 5 – Dead Air)
Warnings: Canon-typical violence, off-screen violence, major character injury
Beta Thanks: Thank you, Naelany!
Word Count: ~23.5k
Summary: When Tony is seriously injured during a routine assignment to collect voiceprints, Gibbs must deal with his conflicted feelings for Tony, as well as the destruction of his team.

Death of Silence

Acronyms:
AMA – Against Medical Advice
DEA – United States Drug Enforcement Administration
FBI – Federal Bureau of Investigation
LEO – Law Enforcement Officer
MCRT – Major Case Response Team
ME – Medical Examiner
MTAC – Multiple Threat Alert Center
PCA – Patient-controlled Analgesia
PD – Police Department
RN – Registered Nurse
SFA – Senior Field Agent
TAD – Temporarily Assigned Duty
MaH – Military at Home (fictional domestic terrorist organization used in 8×05)

Written as a gift for penumbria for the 2015 NCIS Secret Santa gift exchange.

– – – –

Chapter One

19 October 2010

The tires squealed in protest as Gibbs sped into the parking lot of Inova Hospital in Alexandria. He took the space closest to the emergency room that he could find, which was a physician’s space, but he couldn’t care less; he didn’t know exactly how urgent the situation was, but if DiNozzo couldn’t give consent to his own surgery, it was pretty fucking bad.

As he ran into the emergency department, the words spun in his head; DiNozzo injured, emergency surgery required, Gibbs needed right away. Aside from Tony being hurt, the most maddening thing was that Gibbs had no idea why.

Stopping at the reception desk, he impatiently barked, “Anthony DiNozzo… I’m his next of kin and need to sign some papers.”

After looking at the computer, the man gestured to the waiting area which had only a few people in it. “Someone will be right with you.”

He forced himself not to bite the guy’s head off and turned to lean against the wall, arms crossed. After a minute, he pulled out his cell and tried McGee again; it still went straight to voicemail. Same with Ziva. Gibbs’ gut was churning, but there was no direction for him to start in to solve the damn puzzle.

His three agents had been out on a fairly simple assignment. The case seemed to point to possible domestic terrorist cell, but all they were doing was getting voiceprints in a swanky neighborhood in Alexandria. It should have been a cakewalk; especially for DiNozzo and David, who had ample undercover experience. But his team had been gone a little shy of two hours when he’d received a call from a Lieutenant Faber with the Alexandria PD saying DiNozzo had been seriously injured and was being taken to Inova.

Gibbs had asked about his other agents, even as he’d run for his car, but had been given the runaround other than some vague notion that they were okay. Faber had insisted he’d meet him at the hospital with an explanation. The hospital was only fifteen minutes from the Navy Yard, but he’d tried calling his team and gotten voicemail all around. He planned to knock some heads together at the earliest opportunity for breaking rule three.

He’d also called Ducky from the car, asking him to come down, but to keep it quiet; he didn’t need Abby in hysterics when he had less than no information. Plus, Gibbs was absolute shit at dealing with doctors and hospitals and would need the buffer that Ducky could provide.

“Mr. DiNozzo’s family?”

Head snapping up at the words, Gibbs quickly crossed to the man in the white coat with the name tag reading Dr. Marcus Daniels. “Agent DiNozzo,” Gibbs stressed. “And what the hell is going on?”

The doctor’s eyebrows shot up, but he just said, “If you’ll come with me, we can discuss Agent DiNozzo’s condition, and then we’ll get the forms for you to sign.”

Fighting with his impatience, Gibbs followed the doctor into the emergency department and then to a small room. “How’s Tony?” he immediately asked.

“His situation is complicated,” the doctor began.

Gibbs nearly snarled. “Well uncomplicate it! Don’t tap dance, just tell me what the hell happened and what’s wrong with him.”

Doctor Daniels nodded. “Okay then. He was attacked by an unknown number of assailants — I’m afraid I don’t have that piece of information. Aside from general sprains and contusions, he has a displaced fracture of the tibial shaft, which will require surgery; a gunshot wound to the upper chest near the left shoulder – the bleeding is controlled, but we won’t know the extent of the damage until we operate; a concussion, he’s in and out of consciousness and very disoriented when he’s awake, he’s having a CT scan now; and finally, I believe he’s slowly bleeding into his abdomen. Though he’s stable for the moment, most urgently he needs abdominal surgery to find the source of the bleed, and surgery on his shoulder. Other surgeries may follow based on the results of the CT scan and X-rays. Most certainly he’ll require surgery to pin the fracture of his tibia.”

Gibbs was completely stunned. What the fuck had happened to Tony? About half of that was Greek to Gibbs, but he got unconscious, broken leg, fucked up shoulder, and internal bleeding out of it. And that was more than enough. He wanted some answers about what the hell had happened in Royal Woods this morning and he wanted them now.

Knowing the doctor didn’t have the information he sought, he asked, “When can I see him?”

“He will be back from radiology shortly. We’ll get you started on the paperwork while you wait.”

Gibbs wanted to punch something. He needed to get out there and figure out what had happened, and who was to blame, not to mention what was going on with his team. He only had some local LEO’s word for it that McGee and David were okay. But he also needed to take care of DiNozzo’s medical care. He was damn close to calling Vance and having him contact the Alexandria PD to get some answers. But, for now, he had to focus on Tony. Forcing back the seething frustration, he listened to what he needed to fill out and what he was consenting to in terms of DiNozzo’s treatment.

Ten minutes later, he had passed off the consent forms and was working on DiNozzo’s personal information and medical history; and there was too damn much of that as far as Gibbs was concerned. Why was it always Tony getting hurt?

Someone entered the small room he’d been left in, breaking his concentration. He knew at a glance he was looking at a cop, and quickly got to his feet. “You Faber?” he gritted out.

The man stood there with his hands in his pockets, expression shuttered. “Lieutenant Alex Faber, Alexandria Police Department.”

“What the hell is going on, and where are my people?”

Faber looked unruffled as he shut the door. “Your reputation precedes you, Agent Gibbs, but I really don’t have time for your second-B routine. So you can hear me out, and listen to the whole story, or you can wait for the official report. I don’t particularly care which you pick.”

Eyes narrowing, Gibbs assessed Faber. His gut said the cop was rock solid and wouldn’t be moved. Instead of replying, he made a get-on-with-it gesture.

“I’ve known Tony for a few years, and I think it’s why he called me directly rather than dispatch; eliminate the time in identification and other non-critical information. He called a little over an hour ago at 11:02 AM asking for backup. He needed immediate response, but needed it silent.”

A small part of Gibbs was angry that Tony had called someone besides him first, but he rationally knew that Tony made the right call. The local LEOs had the manpower and response time that NCIS couldn’t match.

“Tony was concerned something had happened to his partners and didn’t want police presence to make their situation any more dangerous. He also didn’t want to risk the op he was working. However, his own situation was clearly precarious. I could hear how injured he was in how he was slurring his words and how his concentration was wandering.

“We dispatched two squad cars and three unmarked cars, no sirens, immediately to 26648 Royal Woods Circle. We found Tony badly injured, keeping one suspect at gunpoint and two others already dead. I got very little out of him before the ambulance took him away other than the names of his partners, a vague description of them and their vehicle, and instructions to call you.”

Gibbs frowned… even though he didn’t have all the info yet, something wasn’t making sense. “What had happened to David and McGee? For that matter, what the hell happened to DiNozzo?”

“What we’ve been able to piece together is that in the course of his undercover assignment, Tony stumbled into a very high-end drug operation. Heroin to be precise. A couple wealthy businessmen, who apparently needed a dangerous hobby, and one basic drug smuggler having a meeting at their base of operations. The DEA had not been looking for this operation to be in a neighborhood like Royal Woods. The businessmen are dead, presumably both by Tony. The DEA is taking custody of who we believe to be a drug smuggler. In fact, they’re taking over the case including the assault against Tony.”

Gibbs eyes narrowed at that, but technically the assault would never have been NCIS jurisdiction anyway, though he could have likely forced it. If not part of another investigation, the FBI would have purview.

“I sent two of the unmarked units out to determine how much trouble your other people were in. Because of the situation, we wanted to be certain we had positive ID on them if they were found. The NCIS-issued sedan was located approximately a block and a half away on the circle, with one man and one woman inside. The male was in the driver’s seat reading a magazine, the female was in the front passenger seat reading a book.”

Gut giving off warning sirens, Gibbs wasn’t sure he really wanted to hear the rest. How could they have been reading while Tony was nearly killed? The only possible explanation didn’t actually seem possible.

“My detectives approached the vehicle with caution and had the two people step out of the vehicle and asked them to produce ID. At this point we were uncertain if these were your NCIS agents or not, so we proceeded carefully. They identified themselves, but your Agent David took exception to looking down the business end of a Glock 40 and disarmed one of my detectives.”

Gibbs managed to not visibly wince, but it was a near thing. Ziva was lucky she hadn’t been shot for that stunt, and she damn well knew better.

Faber crossed his arms over his chest. “Though I do not plan to actually have them charged with anything, and Agent McGee hadn’t done anything other than get a bit aggressive when we cuffed David, we are detaining both of them until you are ready for them to be released.

“I arrived just as they were put in the back of one of our vehicles. The NCIS sedan hadn’t been touched at that point, nor were the agents informed of the situation. I personally inspected their equipment.” The Lieutenant stepped closer, but Gibbs held his ground. “The sound was turned off,” Faber said lowly. “As soon as I turned it back up, I could hear the sounds of the crime scene being processed even through the evidence bag we placed Tony’s mic in.”

Gibbs felt like he’d been punched. Part of him knew this was coming, but hearing it was too disgustingly real. How could this happen on his team?

Faber pulled an evidence bag out of his pocket and tossed it to Gibbs. Inside was a standard NCIS surveillance microphone. Clenching his jaw, he fought any other outward reaction.

The cop continued, “The cluster fuck of a huge breach of procedure, hell, full out dereliction of duty, is an NCIS mess. The bare facts will go in my report and probably not even all of them. For the purposes of that investigation, what happens from here is up to you. Everything else that happened today is in the hands of the DEA. Though I expect they’ll want a copy of the audio from the assault.”

He then handed over a set of keys and a business card. “The car is in exactly the same spot, equipment still inside. We’re keeping an eye on it unobtrusively until NCIS removes it, but I can’t promise that past today. The address on the card is where you can get your people when you’re ready. Again, today.”

Gibbs nodded, still feeling like he’d been gutted. The lieutenant turned to leave, but Gibbs offered, “Faber… thank you. For Tony.”

The cop gave him an assessing look before nodding. “He’s a good friend, Gibbs.” With that, the man was gone, leaving Gibbs with an evidence bag, some keys and a complete disaster.

He quickly assessed what needed to be done; first, he had to hand the Military at Home case off to another team, and then deal with the wreckage of his own team and all that entailed. Despite all that, the thing he least wanted to do was have to see the look in Tony’s eyes when he learned that his partners had broken rule one.

The door opened again and Ducky stepped in. “Anthony is back from radiology, Jethro. He was awake briefly, though understandably confused. Dr. Daniels had notified me that you were with the detective investigating Anthony’s assault, so I gave you your privacy while I was obtaining an update on the poor boy’s condition.”

Stuffing the keys and evidence bag in his pocket, Gibbs shook off the dark thoughts. He could only deal with the situation in front of him. He’d deal with the rest when it came. “How is he, Duck?”

“Not well. In addition to what Dr. Daniels has already disclosed to you, they discovered a closed fracture of the parietal bone.”

Gibbs rubbed his hand over his face. “English, Duck.”

“I assure you, I am speaking English. However, in layman’s terms, he has a skull fracture, which has caused some swelling in his brain. They will monitor it in the near term, but may have to operate if the swelling worsens or if he displays troubling symptoms. I’m afraid you will have to curb your usual means of corrections for some time,” Ducky responded lightly, though there was obvious serious concern under it. “And though I would like to know how we arrived at these grievous circumstances, if you wish to see him before they take him to surgery, you should do so now.”

Without replying, Gibbs left the small consult room and let Ducky take him to Tony.

– – – –

The treatment room he was led to had two nurses doing something with all the tubes, wires and equipment DiNozzo was hooked up to. There were more even than when Tony had the plague, and Gibbs desperately hoped Tony’s life wasn’t in as much jeopardy as it had been back then. His senior field agent, his friend, looked rough. Pale, bruised and beaten, and there seemed to be too much blood all over everything; no doubt from the gunshot wound. Though Gibbs new from personal experience that head wounds bled like a bitch.

“Can you give us a minute?” he asked the nurses.

The older of the two nurses nodded, but replied, “Just about literally a minute. They’ll be here for him shortly.” They stepped out, and Ducky followed as well, leaving him alone with Tony.

“Dammit, DiNozzo, why is it always you in this situation?” Gibbs asked softly, neither expecting nor getting a response. Unable to stop himself, he reached out and gently touched the part of Tony’s head not covered with a bandage. Allowing himself to touch Tony wasn’t really a good idea, but he needed the reassurance; perhaps they both did. Getting too close was something he’d been avoiding, but in these circumstances, his past resolve didn’t seem to matter much.

Leaning close, he whispered, “Listen up, Tony. You did good today, real good, and now your only job is to fight and get through this. That’s an order.”

“Yes, Bo-ss,” Tony rasped, eyes barely slitted, and not a lot of comprehension in their depths.

“Atta boy, Tony,” Gibbs said even as several people entered the room to take Tony off to surgery.

Ducky was waiting for him in the hallway and they watched as Tony was wheeled away.

“Jethro, might I inquire as to the whereabouts of Ziva and Timothy? Abigail has called several times after being unable to reach either of them.”

Gibbs knew she was calling; he’d already sent several of her calls to voicemail, but he had told her he’d be unavailable for a while, so her frequent calls were grating on his nerves. “Let’s talk, Duck. I need to leave to get this investigation back on track and sort out David and McGee. You’ll stay with Tony?”

“Of course. Shall we find somewhere private to discuss the matter?”

They wound up talking in the parking lot next to Gibbs’ vehicle. He bluntly laid the situation out for the ME and waited for the subsequent stupefaction to pass.

“I confess to being at a loss for anything meaningful to say,” Ducky finally offered. “The situation is something I would have considered impossible before this very moment.” He hesitated. “Are you certain?”

“Yeah, Duck. Nothing else makes sense, for all that it makes no sense.” Frustrated, he ran his hands through his hair. “Until I talk to Vance, this needs to stay between us. I don’t need Abby or the rest of the agency getting involved. I have to leave and get this goat rope under control. The Military at Home case has to be handed off to another team, and I need to get David and McGee from the Arlington PD.”

“I understand, Jethro, and I’m sure Anthony would understand. I’d like your permission to bring Mr. Palmer down. Though you might not be aware, he and Anthony are good friends and he will keep quiet on the matter. Having another person here whom he trusts can only be of benefit at this point.”

Gibbs was a little surprised, but if Ducky felt Palmer could be trusted, he wouldn’t get in the way. Most of his surprise was at Tony and Palmer being close. You’d never know it from the way they interacted at work. He gave a nod in response.

“Jethro…” Ducky began hesitantly, “have you considered how you will tell the boy what has happened? I fear he’s going to be somewhat devastated.”

He snorted derisively. “Not somewhat, Duck. Completely. And I have no damn idea what I’m going to say to him. But it needs to come from me, so if I’m not back when he wakes, and if he asks about them or what happened…”

“I’ll simply say that I am unaware of all the particulars of the case as I have been at the hospital.”

Gibbs nodded his acceptance of the diversion, got in his car and sped out of the parking lot.

– – – –

Sipping his coffee and leaning against the sedan his team had been driving, Gibbs waited for Balboa’s team to arrive. He had listened to the surveillance recording and had wanted to be sick; hearing Tony being beaten and fighting for his life was bad enough, but hearing him ask for backup, first subtly, then with increasing desperation, had made Gibbs feel as close to broken as he had since he’d lost his family. This wasn’t supposed to happen; should never have happened.

He’d forced the feelings away and reviewed McGee’s log of addresses and names. It had been blank after approximately thirty minutes. Since the log would ultimately be checked in, they had to plan to fill it in from the recording after the fact, and planned to rely on the log Tony made as he went from house to house. From what he could ascertain, Tony had been almost done with the voiceprints before he’d been attacked; there were about five houses to go, so Balboa’s team should wrap up quickly in Royal Woods and be able to get on with the rest of the case. Hopefully the delay wouldn’t impact the case. If it did, it was something else to lay at David and McGee’s feet.

He straightened up when the other sedan arrived. Quickly, he brought the other team up to speed on the case, leaving out the details about the issues with his team, pleased that they seemed to grasp the urgency as they sprang into action. One agent immediately set out to get the remainder of the voiceprints using the equipment Balboa’s team had brought with them.

Leading Balboa away from the duo responsible for surveillance and backup, Gibbs confidentially filled the other Senior Agent in on the entirety of the situation. While he appreciated the horror and disgust from the other man, he didn’t care for the pity directed his way.

“Rick, we need the audio for two cases… Immediately we need it for the MaH case — for Abby to do voice comparisons — but I also need it for the situation with David and McGee. I do not want Abby involved in the issues on my team yet. Can you log the entire recording into evidence but get her a version without Tony’s attack so she can start running her comparisons right away?” Gibbs knew it was doable, but considering he was crap with technology he didn’t know if it could be done quickly enough to not compromise the MaH case.

Balboa nodded. “Yeah, that’s not a problem. Though I’m going to need to read in my SFA. He’s better technologically than I am, and he’ll keep it quiet. I can send him back to the office now and it will be ready by the time we get there so we can turn it over to Abby with the last few we’re getting now.”

Gibbs nodded. “I need a timestamp on when Tony started taking voiceprints, when they stopped monitoring based on the log, and when Tony was attacked. Also, I need a version I can play for Vance; start with the house right before. Can you get that to me today?”

“No issue, Gibbs. Getting that section cut to a flash drive won’t take any time. I’ll text you when it’s ready. Now, you have to tell me what I’m supposed to tell Abby when she asks why we’re taking over the case.”

He rubbed his hand over his face, fighting the mounting frustration. He loved Abby like a daughter, but her high strung emotions got in the way sometimes, and he couldn’t afford to have her interfere in this situation. Unfortunately, there was no doubt she would interfere, and that it would distract her from the work they desperately needed her to actually be doing.

“I’ll call her. Tell her that we’re working on a confidential case and your team has taken over MaH. If she presses, just tell her you know nothing about what we’re working on. And keep me in the loop on the MaH case, Rick… even though the rest of my team is out, I can still assist.”

“I’ll take you up on that, Gibbs. We don’t want this getting ahead of us, so I’ll definitely want your input.” Balboa hesitated a second before adding, “Please let me know how Tony’s doing, yeah?”

Gibbs knew he was terrible about keeping people informed, but he nodded because in a lot of ways, Rick was doing him a favor. “Yeah… If not me, I’ll be sure someone does.” He passed off the keys to the sedan his team had been using, letting Balboa bring it in.

– – – –

He pulled up in front of the Alexandria PD, steeling himself for what he was going to have to do. Though he hadn’t personally chosen either David or McGee for his team, he had accepted them and trained them into what he thought were good agents. What happened today still didn’t seem real; how could these two agents he would have said he trusted, so completely betrayed their partner, their training, and their oath of service?

Inside, he found that Lieutenant Faber had already returned from his crime scene. Gibbs was shown to his office, where he declined the seat offered, wanting to get this over with.

Faber didn’t seem surprised that Gibbs remained standing. “I have them both in an interrogation room. Since I never planned to charge them, unless David got even more aggressive, I didn’t want to put them in lockup.”

“They together?”

“Yes. Recording is always active in our interrogation rooms, and I’m sure they know that and were mindful of it, but if you want the recordings for any reason, you’re welcome to them.”

Gibbs considered for several moments, then nodded. “Doubt it’s useful, but might as well. It’s not urgent, though.”

“I’ll get them sent over to you tomorrow.”

He nodded tersely. “I’d like to get my people,” he had a hard time not scowling at the phrase, because they wouldn’t be his for much longer, “and get out of here.”

“Fine. But I warn you, not charging David was a courtesy. If she interacts with the Alexandria PD again, she needs to be on her best behavior.”

Gibbs snorted. “Not an issue.” Her future behavior wasn’t his problem. Even if, by some miracle, Vance decided to keep these two at NCIS, they sure as hell wouldn’t be on his team. Though if Vance chose to keep them, Gibbs doubted he’d be able to find a team lead willing to take either of them. Even if Tony weren’t popular with many of the other agents, what leader wanted people with that kind of black mark on their record? Gibbs would never accept an agent on his team who’d failed to backup their partner in such a way; whether there was a resultant injury or not.

Faber led him deeper into the PD and passed him a large envelope. “Their cellphones and personal effects.” He then unlocked the door and let him into a fairly standard interrogation room. David was seated on one side of the table looking hostile, and McGee was on the other looking fatigued and resigned.

Both jumped to their feet when he walked in. “Boss!” they said in unison.

“This isn’t as bad as it looks,” McGee began.

“Gibbs, you have to do something about the local yolks,” David interjected.

“I think you mean yokels, Ziva,” McGee corrected.

Before David could reply, Gibbs gritted out, “Enough!” They both came up short at the venom in his tone. He tossed the envelope of their stuff to McGee. “There’s your shit. Get out to the car,” he growled.

David set her jaw stubbornly. “But, Gibbs, you don’t–”

“Shut it!” he barked. “Now get out to the car or I’ll tell the Lieutenant that I don’t mind if he charges you with assaulting a police officer.”

His mood finally seemed to have fully penetrated even David’s stubborn hide and they both scurried out of the room and headed for the exit. He gave a short nod to Faber, then returned to the car.

As soon as he was behind the wheel, he bit out, “I don’t want to hear one word between here and the Yard.”

“But the case,” McGee began from the backseat.

“Not one!” he yelled, making the youngest agent jump in surprise.

They both subsided, McGee looking worried and David looking primarily annoyed, but he could see the apprehension under the surface. Good. They both should be worried.

The drive back to the Navy Yard was only about fifteen minutes, and Gibbs wrestled with his anger the entire way. Being angry was no stranger to Gibbs. He dealt with it all the time, and all different manifestations of the emotion, but the anger that accompanied betrayal was particularly difficult for him to swallow. It didn’t help that the victim in the situation was Tony. Tony who was very special to Gibbs, even if the man in question didn’t know it himself.

– – – –

The three of them stepped into the bullpen and Gibbs ordered, “I want reports on the case up to this point, including the morning activities and your screw up with the local LEOs. Now!”

“Gibbs,” David said in a huff, “we need to be working the case. What about the voice matches? Our equipment is in Royal Woods, and where is Tony?”

Fighting back his urge to throttle her, Gibbs stepped close. “Have you got a problem with my orders, Probationary Agent David?”

It took a second, but she finally backed down. “No, Gibbs.”

McGee looked like he wanted to say something, but instead sat at his desk, starting up his computer.

Gibbs glanced at his two soon-to-be-former agents. “In case I wasn’t clear, you do nothing but get those reports finished.”

As he started to leave, McGee ventured, “Boss, where’s Tony?”

“He is doing exactly what I told him to do, Agent McGee.” He damn well better, Gibbs thought privately. Don’t you dare do anything but come through, Tony.

Having already gotten the text from Balboa that his flash drive was ready, he headed over to Rick’s team’s bullpen. The junior agents were both focused on the case, but spared Gibbs a glance, one looking more intimidated than the other. Beyond that, they had no reaction, but Rick and his SFA were both artificially expressionless, but he could see the simmering anger in both their eyes.

“Coffee?” he asked Balboa, who agreed readily. Gibbs offered a nod to the SFA, who returned it tightly.

Once they had cleared the building, Balboa passed over a little stick thingy that Gibbs knew went in one of the ports on the computer. “There are four files on there. The first is the full surveillance file we logged into evidence as restricted. Someone will need authorization to pull it from evidence… even Abby can’t access it.

“The second is the abbreviated file we turned in to Abby for analysis along with the last pieces my team collected. And the third audio file is DiNozzo’s attack, starting with the house before it, as requested. There’s also a file with the timeline you asked for. You know the DEA is going to request the full undoctored file, yeah?”

“I know. But I want to clean house before we have to turn it over. Faber told them they’d have to request the surveillance recordings from NCIS officially. I expect the request today.” He gave Rick a quick glance. “Abby give you grief?”

“A bit, but nothing I can’t handle.”

“So you mostly acted ignorant and told her to ask me?”

“Yeah, pretty much.”

Gibbs snorted and pocketed the flash drive.

– – – –

Chapter Two

After parting ways with Balboa, Gibbs leaned against the side of the building and pulled out his phone. He’d been ducking Abby since he’d left NCIS after the emergency call about Tony earlier, even though he’d told her he’d be in touch when he could and to not call him. He’d left her the one message about Balboa taking over the case and to work with him and, again, not to call. Now he was ducking Vance, too. Though he planned to remedy that shortly, he had one thing to do first.

Taking a sip of the second cup of coffee, he listened to the phone ring. As soon as it was answered, he bluntly asked, “How is he?”

“Hello, Jethro,” Ducky responded politely. “Anthony is still in surgery. He has a lacerated spleen, though when I had my last discourse with his surgeon, she was of the opinion that the organ could be saved. Though it’s a less vital organ, it would certainly be better if he could retain it, especially with Anthony’s prior medical issues. The repair of his shoulder will be next, but they expect it to be fairly quick based on the imaging.”

“How much longer?”

“Barring complications, likely another hour. Two at most,” Ducky replied, sounding calm and steady. “There had been some concern about his lungs, considering the damage done by his brush with the plague, but Dr. Irobi noted that he seems to be managing quite well.”

“How’s his head?”

“They are monitoring his symptoms and the degree of swelling in the brain. At this stage, monitoring is the best course. And before you ask, tentatively, they plan to operate on his leg tomorrow morning, so you need to meet the orthopedist today. He leaves at 6:30. Will you be back before then in order to attend the consult?”

Gibbs considered the time. That still gave him a couple hours to deal with things here. “I’ll be there by 6. Thanks, Duck.” He flipped the phone shut and headed back in the building and straight up to Vance’s office.

He hesitated at the secretary’s desk, who looked astonished. It wasn’t out of any particular courtesy, but rather he suddenly needed a moment. He couldn’t not read Vance in, especially with the DEA likely to call soon, but this action took it out of his hands completely, and it suddenly felt more horrifyingly and appallingly real.

“He’ll see you now, Agent Gibbs,” she said haltingly, grabbing Gibbs’ attention.

Shaking off his ruminations, he pushed into Vance’s office.

“You must really want something if you waited to enter,” Vance mused, seemingly relaxed back in his chair.

“No, Leon, I don’t particularly want anything.”

“Then you care to tell me why you decided to hand off your case to Balboa, took your team off rotation — all without bothering to consult me — and why I just got off the phone with the DEA who are demanding we turn over evidence in a case of theirs?” Vance said with a veneer of politeness and he leaned forward and braced his elbows on his desk.

“Why else do you think I’m here?”

Vance’s eyes narrowed and he jammed a toothpick in his mouth. “I’m listening.”

Gibbs tossed the flash drive on Vance’s desk. “Listen to the third audio file on that. It’s what the DEA is after, though it’s the least of my concerns.”

Vance plugged the drive into his computer and quickly got the file playing. The audio started with Tony talking to a man about his dog. “What the hell is this?”

“DiNozzo was getting voiceprints for our possible domestic terrorism case this morning. Listen.”

He easily got the man to talk for a couple minutes, then moved on. As he walked, he made a couple comments designed to entertain McGee and David and then noted the address he was approaching.

Tony knocking, and the door being opened could be heard clearly.

Yeah?” a man’s voice said.

Hi, I’m Tony. We’re thinking of buying the house on the other side of the circle, and wondered what you thought of the neighborhood.”

It’s all right.”

What’s the commute like into DC?” Tony prompted, obviously knowing he probably didn’t have enough for a voiceprint out of that terse response.

I wouldn’t know. I work in Arlington, and the drive isn’t a problem.”

Oh, well… thanks for your time. I appreciate it.”

Sure.” The door closed.

Well, he was a barrel of laughs,” Tony said lowly to the team.

Hey wait!” the man’s voice called out from a bit of a distance.

They can’t get enough of me,” Tony whispered for his team’s benefit. “Did you think of something else?” he called out.

Yeah, my roommate wondered if you wanted to know about schools?” The voice was louder, so Tony had obviously walked back to the door.

Your roommate?” Tony asked skeptically, and Gibbs would have been skeptical, too. People who lived in communities like Royal Woods didn’t have roommates. If McGee and David had been listening, they should have been alerted immediately by the odd comment, and been preparing to intercede. Even Vance was frowning as he stared at the laptop in consternation.

Me,” a new voice snarled and there was the sound of a scuffle — fabric rubbing, a grunt or two and an exclamation of surprise — then the door slammed. Gibbs assumed Tony had been yanked inside the house in that exchange.

There was a bang that sounded like a body colliding with a wall or door, then Tony said, “Whoa, man, what’s with the rough? I just had a question… I think you guys need to back up.”

Gibbs’ jaw clenched at the first request for backup, and Vance’s toothpick snapped.

I know you, man,” the second anonymous voice said. “I don’t know where, but I know you, and I don’t believe you’re lookin’ for a house.”

Look, buddy, you don’t know me. And I am looking for a house. My wife is a few doors down talking to Mrs. Carlson about her pool. Her name’s Ziva and she’ll be here soon and can back up my story. Our nephew, Tim, will be with her.”

Nah… I know I’m right. If you were married, you’d have a ring, now wouldn’t you? And these guys keep me around to make sure people like you don’t get too curious. You know something, don’t you? What did you hear?

I know that you don’t exactly look like Royal Woods material,” Tony said lightly. “But I’m not judging you, buddy. And whatever you’ve got going on here, I don’t care about. I’m just looking for a house in a nice gated community with security guards who’ll be there when you need them, and all the other perks.”

There was the sound of a punch and a grunt of pain.

What the fuck!” Tony exclaimed. “Are you out of your mind? I don’t have a clue what’s going on here and I don’t care. Now just let me–”

Get rid of him,” a third male voice interrupted.

The sound of the slide on a semi-automatic could be heard just as Tony said, “Look, I’m Anthony DiNozzo with NCIS and I’m not here for whatever is going on at this house. But my partners are on their way. So put down the gun and let’s stop this before it gets any more out of control. You don’t want to be charged with assaulting a federal agent.”

No one is going to know anything about you, ever again. And if these partners exist and manage to turn up, we’ll just take care of them, too.”

Like hell,” Tony growled.

From there the sounds became chaotic as a fight ensued. The thumps and crashes were impossible to decipher, but Tony could be heard gasping, “Ziva, McGee, now would be a good time!”

A shot rang out and Tony called out, “Where the hell are you guys?” Then another shot and Tony gave a muffled yell of pain. More thumps and crashes and another yell, but sounding agonized. Gibbs theorized this was when Tony broke his leg.

There was suddenly another shot, and the second man, who had been suspicious of Tony, likely because he’d seen him working as a cop at some point, Gibbs assumed, said, “You killed Mark!”

And I’m going to kill you if you make one more move,” Tony barked. It sounded authoritative, but Gibbs knew Tony well enough to hear the pain and distress in his voice. There was silence for a few seconds before Tony ordered, “Both of you on the floor. Now!”

I don’t think so,” the third voice, and the coldest one, replied. “You’re pretty messed up right now. I don’t even think you can shoot straight.”

You take one more step toward that gun, and I will put a bullet in you. Now sit on the goddamn floor!”

The man laughed. “You couldn’t hit the broadside of a barn… look at how you’re shaking.” There were faint sounds of movement, then the report of gunfire.

Now,” Tony said, “Do you want to test my resolve, or are you going to sit your ass on the floor?” There were rustling sounds, then Tony added, “Good. Now, I’m going to make a call, and I swear on everything I hold dear that if you so much as twitch, I will put one in your fucking skull. Is that clear enough for you?”

Yeah. Not moving. I’ll just sit here, man,” the second guy, and only one living, replied.

Between holding his weapon and the shoulder injury, the sounds of Tony fumbling with his phone came through clearly and he put it on speaker as he called Faber, the conversation going just like Faber had relayed to Gibbs. Though hearing Tony’s rapid decline was painful. The more they talked, the more he began to mumble and slur his words.

My team, Alex…” Tony trailed off, clearly trying to get his thoughts together. “I think there’re more of these guys and they have my team. You have to be careful and make sure they’re okay.”

The tinny voice from the speakerphone could barely be heard over the mic. “I hear you, Tony. We’re on our way, just keep talking to me. Tell me about the team. What are we looking for?”

NCIS sedan… blue Dodge Charger. My probie Tim McGee. 6’2, dark blond, blue eyes. Likes jet packs. Looks like he’d secretly rather be doing cosplay.” Tony groaned and went quiet.

Nerdy type, I gotcha, Tony. Tell me about the other one.” At the silence, Faber prompted, “Come on, DiNozzo, you gotta tell me about the other one.”

Right. Ninja. 5’6, brown hair, brown eyes. Stealthy. Kill you with a paper clip.”

A paper clip?”

Never doubt the former Mossad assassin, Alex… If she says she can kill you with a paper clip, then you avoid taking her to Office Depot.”

Gotcha. Tell me her name, Tony. Gotta be able to confirm ID. I’ve got Tim McGee. What’s your Ninja’s name?”

There was a long pause before Tony waveringly replied, “Ziva. Ziva David. Find my team, Alex. They’re… my responsibility.”

I hear you, Tony. Just keep talking. We’re only a couple minutes out. Where’s your boss?”

Office. You gotta call him… number one on my cell. Okay?”

You need a life, man. Your boss shouldn’t be number one on your cell,” Faber teased.

Tony made a sound like a snort, but then groaned in pain.

Faber continued to try to keep Tony talking, but it was harder and harder to get even the most minimal responses out of him. Gibbs assumed as the adrenaline waned, Tony’s ability to function went with it. In retrospect, Gibbs found it almost a miracle that Tony managed to remain conscious and coherent as long as he had with the degree of head injury he’d suffered.

When they heard the LEOs arrive, Vance shut off the recording, expression shuttered. “What happened to McGee and David?”

“Nothing. They were in the car reading,” Gibbs said bitingly.

“Equipment malfunction?” Vance asked hopefully.

“No. They had turned off the volume. They weren’t listening. And even if it had malfunctioned, the minute they stopped hearing Tony, they should have been out of the car and finding him to let him know and get it fixed.”

Vance’s hands clenched into fists and he stared at his desktop for several moments. “Do you know why?”

“Does it matter? There’s no possible excuse. But, no… I haven’t confronted them yet. They don’t know about what happened to DiNozzo. When the Alexandria PD found them and asked them to step out of the car and produce identification, David got hostile. I don’t have the whole story, but she disarmed one of the detectives. Lieutenant Faber, the man Tony called for backup, had them both detained, but released them to me without charges. They’re writing their reports.”

“I can’t believe they would…” he trailed off, then seemed to get his thoughts in order. “Maybe something like this was bound to happen — with the kind of environment DiNozzo fosters–”

“Don’t,” Gibbs snapped. “Agent Connors,” he pointed out. “And for that matter, me.” Connors was the agency’s biggest asshole and Gibbs was its biggest bastard. “Would it be okay in your book for someone to leave us hanging like that? Would you find there was cause?”

Vance winced a little, but still gnawed on his toothpick, looking like he wanted to argue.

“I don’t know what your problem with DiNozzo is, but grinding that axe in this situation just makes you look like you’re trying to compete with Connors for biggest asshole, and it makes you unfit to sit in the chair. You heard the damn tape, Leon! There’s more than ninety minutes of Tony doing his job and getting those voiceprints before the part you heard. If you think it was acceptable to leave him without backup because of a few humorous comments — either during the assignment or in the years before it — then you are not the man I thought you were.”

Vance clenched his jaw. “I’m not saying that, Gibbs! But when a working environment is unprofessional, how can you be surprised when unprofessional acts are committed?”

Gibbs glared. “You really want to go with that? You want to set the precedent that anytime someone is unprofessional in this organization that it’s okay to violate procedure, essentially abandon your post, and leave another agent without backup?”

Vance winced and glanced away.

“You don’t think McGee and David pull their share of stunts? They each have a lengthy list of unprofessional acts. Would we be having this bullshit conversation if Tony had been the person turning off the sound and reading a book?”

Vance was quiet for several seconds, then conceded. “Point taken.”

Huffing in annoyance, Gibbs continued to glare. “What the hell is your problem with him, Leon?”

“He’s a relic, Gibbs. He’s behind the times. With his investigative skills and experience, he should be a team lead, but he’s happy as an SFA, so I’m not getting the best use out of him. But even if he wanted to be promoted, I’m not happy with his technology skills. And with his level of professionalism, it’s clear he doesn’t respect the job.”

Gibbs leaned back in his seat and gave Leon a pitying look. “You’ve never read Tony’s file, have you?”

Vance frowned. “I know his qualifications, Gibbs.”

“Do you?”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“I mean, that if you had actually read Tony’s file, including the parts Morrow and Shepard agreed to put in the classified portion, you’d be a fool to have this opinion of him. Of course, I think you’re a fool to have it anyway, because actions should speak louder than paper, but since you’re stuck on his qualifications, let’s talk about them; Tony only plays at being useless with technology. He’s not a hacker by any stretch, but who do you think did all the computer work when we were a two-man team?”

Vance opened his mouth, then snapped it shut. He watched Gibbs for several long seconds. “Why?”

“So McGee would have a place on the team. McGee was a stuttering nervous wreck when Tony recommended him for the MCRT. Tony’s the best investigator, Kate’s specialty was profiling, and Tony felt McGee needed his own niche. Frankly, it’s a mark of shitty observation skills that people think Tony is inept with computers yet he manages to pull his weight on the standard investigative tasks like searches and background checks, plus does all his SFA paperwork — and frankly half of my paperwork — on his own time, and yet barely puts in more hours than either of the other two.”

Chewing a new toothpick, Vance scowled. “I assumed Agent McGee was helping with the team reports and paperwork.”

Gibbs snorted. “Not a chance.”

“That’s not exactly grooming him to be an SFA,” Vance commented.

Eyes narrowed, Gibbs countered, “You want to know why, you ask Tony. I had to take my licks on that one and I accepted his reasoning. I’ll admit it took me a bit to ask him, but once I did, I agreed that the onus was on McGee to step up, not on Tony or me to hold his damn hand.” Gibbs had come close to losing Tony after the Domino fiasco, but when he confronted Tony about it later, the reasons actually went back to the mess while he was in Mexico and after his return.

One of the many things that had been revealed was that Tony had attempted to train McGee to be an SFA and McGee had refused to do the work, thinking Tony was sloughing off his own unwanted tasks. If McGee was that unobservant about what went on with the team, and what Tony did every day, Gibbs agreed that it was up to McGee to step up. As for he and Tony, they had a couple difficult conversations, but had mostly set the past to rest.

Though Gibbs reluctantly wondered how much of today’s events were on him. If Vance wanted to point the finger at professionalism, Gibbs’ had more skin in that game than Tony. He knew from those conversations with Tony that McGee and Ziva both had insubordination issues with Tony. He’d made some subtle corrections, but he’d mostly been content to let competition bring out the best in his people. When he was out of the office, he expected Tony to step up and be in charge, but when he was around, he had to admit that he didn’t do much to reinforce to the junior agents that Tony was their superior.

“All right, I’ll ask him. What else is in his file that I haven’t read?” Vance prompted.

“He has a bachelor’s in psychology and a master’s in criminology,” Gibbs replied quickly, enjoying the look on Vance’s face.

“Why the hell would that be in the classified part of his file? Education is basic qualifications.”

“What difference does it make?” Gibbs retorted, now seriously annoyed. “His performance on the job should be what matters, not his damn degrees, Leon. He didn’t want it known because Tony relies on being underestimated. It’s his greatest weapon. Morrow never fell for it because he bothered to read Tony’s background report, Jenny only bought into it until she got to know him, which took about six months, but you’ve been believing the act over the results for over two years.”

Vance’s eyebrows went up. “You got something to say, then say it.”

“Get your head out of your ass!” Gibbs didn’t know exactly what had set Vance off when it came to Tony, but he didn’t really care. The man needed to get over it. “You talk about Tony being unprofessional… Maybe you should look at your unwarranted prejudice against an agent who has proven himself to just about everyone else in the damn agency; that’s very professional of you.”

For a moment, he thought Vance might lose it, but he reined it in and instead asked, “How is DiNozzo?”

“Not good,” Gibbs snapped.

“Gibbs,” Vance snapped back. “What’s his condition?”

“Shot in the left shoulder, broken leg, skull fracture, lacerated spleen, broken ribs, other minor injuries,” he rattled off.

“Damn.” Vance looked shocked and leaned back in his chair. “He going to make it?”

“He’d damn well better. He’s having surgery number one now.”

“Number one?”

“Spleen and shoulder. Leg is tomorrow. They may have to operate on his head if the swelling doesn’t go down.”

“Leg’s bad enough to require surgery? Well, hell. He’s going to be out of commission for a while.” Vance put a fresh toothpick in his mouth and chewed it a bit. “What was it exactly DiNozzo stumbled on?”

“Heroin.”

Vance’s brows shot up. “In Royal Woods? That’s some high profile heroin. I assume that explains the call from the DEA?”

Gibbs nodded. “After processing the scene, Faber’s people ceded jurisdiction to the DEA and told them there was an audio recording of the attack, but they’d have to go through us to get it. He could have confiscated our equipment, but instead, kept eyes on it and told me to clean up my own mess.”

“Fair enough. And so you assigned your existing case to Balboa’s team?”

“I’ve got no one to work it, what did you expect me to do?”

“I’m not arguing, just clarifying.” Vance drummed his fingers on the arm of his chair. “Any idea how DiNozzo managed to survive that? Three on one isn’t great odds.”

Gibbs shook his head. “How does he ever manage it? How’d he come out alive after going toe to toe with a Kidon assassin? Or survive several days with a serial killer? Tony would tell you he’s scrappy, but the truth is that he’s more skilled than he’d ever let anyone see, and, most importantly, he doesn’t know how to give up.”

Vance looked thoughtful, as if he were adjusting his world view. “So what’s next?”

“I have to be back in Alexandria by six to meet with Tony’s surgeon. With his head injury he can’t make medical decisions, and I have his proxy. Which gives me just enough time to deal with my two former agents.”

“You can’t fire them, Gibbs,” Vance immediately replied.

Gibbs nearly snarled, “You’re going to keep them after that?”

“I didn’t say that,” Vance snapped. “But there has to be an investigation into a procedure breach where an agent was injured, and then a disciplinary review. They’ll both be suspended immediately. Go say what you have to say to them, then send them to me. Though I’d be lying if I said I didn’t regret that the agency will likely lose their skills.”

Gibbs’ eyes narrowed. “Really? Answer me this, if you were still a team lead, would you take someone with that kind of screw-up on your team?”

“Of course not. I’m capable of seeing both sides, Gibbs. I can readily admit they deserve to lose their jobs, and in a probationary agent’s case there’s almost no alternative, but still see it will be a loss to the agency. Don’t mistake my regret for tolerance. Before this is over, I assure you, it will be clear that I will not tolerate this kind of behavior.”

Gibbs got to his feet. “Let’s be clear about what I won’t tolerate,” he said softly. “None of the responsibility for this better come down on DiNozzo.”

Vance’s jaw clenched and the toothpick snapped, but all he said after removing the broken pick was, “Noted.”

– – – –

“I’d like to know what is going on, McGee,” he heard David say as he paused just out of visual range. “And why is Balboa’s team working our case?!”

“You think I don’t want to know that, too, Ziva? But Gibbs gave us orders to finish these reports and nothing else. Besides, only he has the answers.”

“Well, I am finished with my report. Abby said she has been unable to get any answers from Gibbs, nor has she been able to reach Tony. What about Gibbs’ rule three? Why is he not answering his phone when we call? Why were we pulled from the case? Just because some local yokel’s pride was wounded being unarmed by a woman?”

“Ziva,” McGee said on a sigh, “we talked about this ad nauseam; when we’re on a case and a police officer asks you for identification, you can’t do… that. You could have been charged with assaulting a police officer.”

David made a dismissive sound. “Gibbs would never let that happen. That man had no business pointing his weapon at me. Anyone who directs their firearm at me will be disarmed. But even if there were issues from that event, it was hours ago. We should be working the case! I want answers, McGee, don’t you?”

“Is that right, Probationary Agent David?” Gibbs interjected as he came around the corner.

She straightened her spine. “Yes. I think we deserve to know what is happening with our case and why we are not allowed to work on it.”

“You work on what I tell you to work on, and you deserve to know exactly nothing. And since you’re standing here yapping, those reports had better be finished.”

“Mine’s done, Boss,” McGee offered, getting to his feet. “I just printed it.”

“Mine as well. It’s on your desk.”

Gibbs took both reports and started out of the bullpen. “With me.” He led them to interrogation one, and gestured them inside.

“What’s happening?” McGee asked.

Taking his seat with his back to the window, Gibbs pointed to the two chairs on the opposite side. “Sit.”

“Are we to be interrogated now?” David snapped.

“You got a problem with that?” he asked with faked disinterest.

“And if I do?”

“Then I’d suggest you not violate procedure in the future. Now, if you’re done yammering, sit!” he barked.

McGee readily sat, but David was slower, her expression mulish in the way it only was when she knew she was in the wrong. He’d seen her like this before when she’d screwed up. But eventually she took the seat when she found no give in Gibbs’ expression or demeanor.

Between Vance’s office and coming back to the bullpen, he’d made some arrangements in regards to this session. He wondered if either of them would notice that the recording light was on. He took a minute to look over both reports, finding McGee’s to be more thorough in regards to the altercation with the Alexandria PD. David’s was fairly typical for her, and he would have normally kicked it back for lack of detail in several areas.

Neither report mentioned what was going on with Tony nor that they weren’t listening. In fact, they both called out that they were in Royal Woods to provide backup to the agent obtaining the voiceprints and to ensure the equipment was recording properly. Neither of which they could do with the fucking sound off.

Setting the papers aside, he looked from one to the other. “When the Alexandria PD detectives approached the vehicle, did they identify themselves?”

“Yes, Boss,” McGee responded immediately.

“Yes,” David replied a bit more reluctantly, and somewhat sullenly.

“So you knew they were police officers when you attacked them,” he commented, watching David carefully.

Her cheeks flushed faintly. “Yes, but I simply reacted. It was a reflex. And I do not understand the issue… you already stated that they would not pursue the matter.”

Gibbs raised one brow and stared at her until she backed down a little. “Just because the locals aren’t going to follow up on the issue doesn’t mean NCIS is going to let it slide.” He leaned forward and braced his elbows on the table. “And in terms of your little ‘reflex’ problem, I’ve advised you about that already. When you and DiNozzo were set to steal Domino, you were ordered not to engage if you got caught, and yet you did. Tony caught a rifle butt to the face because of you. When I warned you not to let it happen again, did you think I was talking just to hear myself speak?”

“No, Gibbs,” she conceded. “I will work on it.”

“And you think that’s an adequate response?”

“What else would have you have me say? Are you implying that my agent status is in jeopardy because a couple cops had their pride wounded?”

To some degree, Gibbs had to acknowledge that he’d fostered that lack of respect toward other agencies. His lack of trust and dislike of other agencies or departments getting involved in his cases had translated to some degree into her disdain. Though part of it was just her own sense of superiority. “I may not often trust other LEOs to work my cases, and I sure as hell don’t like sharing jurisdiction, but I don’t disdain them, Probationary Agent David. You need to learn the difference.”

“Why do you insist on reminding me of my probationary status today?” she asked with a frown.

He abruptly stood, kicking his chair back and quickly rounding the table, getting into her face. “If you don’t want to be reminded that you’re a probie, you need to stop acting like one! Am I clear?”

She had pulled back, almost pressing into McGee, and gave a nod.

“I said, am I clear?” he bit out.

“Yes, Gibbs.”

Retaking his chair, he pulled the reports in front of him again, idly commenting, “Vance is already aware of the confrontation with the Alexandria PD. He’ll decide what NCIS’ official response is, both to them and in regards to you two.”

“Boss…” McGee tried.

“Drop it,” he snapped. “I know you thought you were backing up your partner,” he had a hard time not sneering through that, “but you should have shut up and cooperated.”

“Yes, Boss.”

He took a sip of his coffee, which was almost gone, then leaned back in his chair, arms crossed over his chest. “Describe the rest of your morning for me.”

They both rushed to answer, each giving ground to the other sometimes. They only briefly touched on the surveillance duties, more focused on what happened after they were both detained.

Gibbs stared at the tabletop for several seconds, letting them ramble. He finally held up a hand until they were both silent. After a few moments of quiet, he softly asked, “At what point in all of this did you decide it was a good idea to turn off the volume on the surveillance equipment?”

He looked up in time to see McGee blanch, and Ziva just frown.

David just shrugged. “It was perhaps after half an hour of listening to Tony bobble.”

“Babble,” McGee corrected.

She waved her hand. “Babble, bobble… he does enough of both, yes?”

“It’s not in your report,” Gibbs observed silkily.

“Do we need to note every volume adjustment now?”

Gibbs knew Ziva was arrogant, but he was surprised at just how deep that arrogance ran. Not to mention her complete lack of regard for another agent’s safety. “From McGee’s expression, I know he’s fully aware of how serious a breach of NCIS procedure that was. But you seem to think it was completely acceptable to shut off the comms.”

“It was a milkwalk, Gibbs. Even a child could have accomplished this mission alone.”

“Uh, cake walk or milk run, Ziva,” McGee offered.

Before David could wave it off again, Gibbs slapped the table. “Enough! Aside from breaking procedure in the worst possible way, you both screwed over your partner, breaking my first rule. I’d ask what the hell you were thinking, but you obviously weren’t.”

David crossed her arms and leaned back. “Tony will no doubt make us suffer for weeks.”

Gibbs stared in astonishment. “I sincerely doubt Tony will ever trust you in the field again, and frankly, neither will I.” He lifted his hand, giving the signal for the tech to bring in the laptop.

Both stared in confusion as the small laptop was setup with the flash drive and the tech pointed out which button needed to be pressed to start playback. As soon as the room was clear again, Gibbs leaned down, bracing his weight on his hands and staring at both agents. “You will listen to this in silence. Not a word from either of you. Am I clear?”

“Yes, Boss.”

“Yes, Gibbs.”

Hitting play, he leaned against the wall next to the two-way mirror, carefully watching their expressions. He hated that Ziva had done this, but in some way it didn’t cut as deeply. She had made too many mistakes for him to ever trust her the way he did Tony or the way he had trusted McGee. He had trusted her to do the job. But McGee hurt. Tony had wanted the young agent on the team, had gone to bat for him, but Gibbs had been proud of how McGee had grown into the job and was happy to have him on his team. The wound of his betrayal would not easily heal for any of them.

As soon as the obvious danger was presented and Tony made his first subtle call for backup, David’s expression closed off, but McGee’s was openly fearful. Gibbs had already had to hear this twice, and having to listen to it a third time was near torture, but he bore it because he had no choice.

As the violence began, David became even stonier. McGee’s emotions were plain to see; he was horrified. Gibbs let them listen through every request for help, and stopped the playback just after Tony dazedly begged his friend to find his partners and make sure they were okay.

He closed the laptop with more force than necessary, fighting his urge to rail at the two of them, to make them suffer some small fraction of what Tony was going to suffer. But he didn’t have any more time to waste on people he never planned to see again.

“Vance is waiting for both of you. Report to his office immediately.” He slipped the laptop under his arm and turned to leave.

“Boss…” McGee’s voice halted him briefly, but he didn’t look back. “Is Tony all right?”

“No, he’s not. But you best pray he recovers, or I’ll do everything in my power to see you both in jail.”

As he stepped out of the interrogation room, he nodded to the Marine who would be escorting the two agents up to Vance’s office and then out of the building.

He checked his text messages and found one from Ducky that Tony was out of surgery and doing as well as could be expected. Gibbs flipped his phone closed, and took a steadying breath. Just like when Tony had the plague, he had this gnawing fear that he’d lose him. Also just like back then, he hated that he had other responsibilities that kept him from being where Tony needed him.  Pushing the worry away, he went down to Abby’s lab. Even though he needed to leave for the hospital soon, he needed to deal with this first.

Walking into her lab, he turned off the music.

Abby whipped around with a, “Hey!” Then she smiled. “Gibbs! You’re back!” Her expression shifted to a scowl. “Where has everyone been, and what’s with everyone being out of contact? And Ziva and Timmy say they can’t get ahold of Tony… has he forgotten rule three? I can’t believe him. Why did you give your case to Balboa? Not that his team isn’t good, but I’d think with a domestic terrorist, Vance would want his A-team on the case.”

“Abby!” Gibbs nearly hollered. “I don’t have time for this.” He fought for a moment with mounting impatience. “Tony’s in the hospital, and I need to get back there.”

Mouth falling open, her eyes widened comically. “What’s wrong with Tony?”

“He was shot taking voiceprints this morning.” He decided not to elaborate about the other injuries.

“What?!” she screeched. “How could Ziva and McGee not tell me that?”

“They didn’t know, not until a few minutes ago,” he retorted.

She frowned in confusion. “How could they not know?”

“Because they weren’t doing their damn jobs. They were reading magazines and not listening to the surveillance feed.”

“No,” she whispered, sounding completely disbelieving. “They wouldn’t do that.”

“They did do that,” Gibbs snapped. “They don’t even deny it.”

“Oh my god. Oh my god.” She stared for several seconds, then asked. “What’s going to happen to them? Is Vance angry? Will he kick them off the team?”

Gibbs felt totally blindsided for a second. “It doesn’t really matter if Vance removes them from the team, I won’t have them on my team any longer.”

“But, Gibbs–”

“There’s no discussion on this issue,” he interrupted. “You needed to know Tony was hurt, and I assumed you’d be hearing from one of the other two right after they see Vance.”

“Gibbs, we’re a family.” Her eyes filled with tears, but he found himself completely unmoved since the tears weren’t for the person who needed them right now.

He simply stared.

“Why are you looking at me that way?”

“Your concern for Tony is touching.”

She blinked in astonishment. “That’s not fair! Tony’s all right… he always is. He gets a bullet graze or a concussion and a few days of desk duty and everything goes back to normal.” She ended on a bit of a petulant note that made Gibbs want to throttle her. “Ziva and Timmy could lose their jobs if you and Tony don’t fight for them!”

Instead, he stepped close. “Skull fracture, bullet lodged in the upper chest near the shoulder, lacerated spleen, broken ribs, tibia in pieces and a host of minor injuries.”

Abby clapped both hands over her mouth, eyes wide with horror.

“He called out repeatedly for backup,” Gibbs pressed ignoring her mounting upset. “Maybe we were like a family… After all, families do awful things to each other. But if that’s what we’ve come to, then it ends here. Because that is never acceptable in my book.” He stepped back, giving her space. “Do not give Balboa grief for taking over this case, and I’d strongly advise you to stay out of the screw-up that David and McGee have created for themselves.”

“Can I go to the hospital with you?” she whispered.

“No,” he replied somewhat harshly. “He just got out of surgery and they wouldn’t let you in. You’d be a distraction I don’t need right now.” He knew he was being callous, but at the moment, he didn’t really give a damn.

“Gibbs,” she said pleadingly.

“No, Abby. Someone will keep you posted, but I don’t want you at the hospital right now.”

– – – –

Chapter Three

Balboa was waiting for him by his car as arranged. He got a quick update on the case; they had determined that the MaH group was likely trying to purchase a bomb. Balboa’s SFA planned to insert himself into the meet tomorrow. Gibbs couldn’t help but think that it was a task ideally suited to David’s skillset, but NCIS would have to learn to live without her unique blend of skills. McGee’s, too. Regardless, his gut said Balboa’s team was on the right track and he felt comfortable in his choice to hand the case off.

“How’s Tony doing,” Rick asked as soon as they’d finished the case update.

“He’s hanging in there.” Gibbs raked his hand through his hair. “He’s out of the first surgery; they think they saved his spleen, and dealt with the gunshot wound. Surgery on the leg is tomorrow. They’re keeping an eye on the head situation.”

“Damn. You okay with me updating Nate? He’s keeping this all quiet for the moment, but he’s worried.” Nate Adams was Balboa’s SFA. Gibbs knew Tony and Adams spent time together playing basketball, but not much else about their friendship.

“Yeah. It’s all gonna come out sooner or later, but until you hear it from another official source, no one outside the two of you.”

“Got it. When you talk to Tony, tell him we’re pulling for him.”

– – – –

Gibbs was nearly glazing over as he listened to the orthopedic surgeon explain what they wanted to do to Tony’s leg. He’d wanted to see Tony right away, but he’d barely made it back in time for the consult with the doctor. He and Ducky were in a room with a lots of x-rays and a very intense youngish surgeon named Dr. Lim. Palmer was apparently sitting with Tony at the moment.

Finally, Gibbs held up a hand. “This level of detail is clearly for Ducky’s benefit, because I don’t understand what the hell you’re talking about. But I’m the one who has to sign the consent form. Our normal routine of Ducky translating for me later doesn’t work if you want my go ahead. So… in plain English.” He was really trying to be patient and not snap at the men and women responsible for keeping Tony alive.

Dr. Lim used a marker on the x-ray to show what they wanted to do.

Once Gibbs understood the plan, he internally cringed. “You want to drive what amounts to a giant nail down through his bone, from top to bottom, to hold it in alignment while it heals?”

“Yes, exactly,” Lim said emphatically. “As opposed to conventional pins, screws, and/or plates, this gives him the best chance of regaining full use of the leg. Intramedullary nailing stabilizes this type of fracture in the best possible way for proper bone alignment during healing, which is the foundation for his rehabilitation.”

“How good a chance?” If Tony didn’t get full use of his leg back, it was unlikely he would ever be able to pass medical for field duty. Only in his own mind would he acknowledge that the hurdles to getting Tony back in the field were much more than physical.

“I’d say very good. He’s in excellent shape, a healthy weight, and used to exercise. Typically, with someone in his situation, the issue becomes getting them to not overdo their rehab. Pushing too hard with this type of injury can be worse than not pushing enough.”

Gibbs nodded. He could rein that in, of that he was certain. He’d just have to keep a close eye on Tony and make sure he followed the doctor’s orders. A part of him acknowledged that keeping an eye on Tony was never a hardship.

They talked for another fifteen minutes, working through the risks and benefits of the different approaches before Gibbs signed the consent forms for the big ass nail-thing, as he thought of it. Depending upon how Tony did overnight, they may have to postpone the surgery, but the orthopedist felt it best to repair the leg as soon as possible.

Once they left the doctor and headed up one floor to the surgical intensive care, Ducky pulled Gibbs into a small waiting room outside the unit. He had to bite back his annoyance. He was getting rather desperate to see how Tony was doing, but it seemed like there was a never-ending stream of things to do or discuss that came first. Mostly discuss, and Gibbs was feeling completely talked out.

“Jethro, I’ll take Mr. Palmer for a cup of tea and give you some time alone with Anthony.”

He nodded his head in acknowledgment of the gesture.

Ducky cocked his head to the side. “Do consider giving up your eternal silence on the subject of your feelings for the young man.

Gibbs’ eyes widened. “You think now is a good time to talk about feelings?”

“Perhaps not an in depth discussion, but he’ll need something to grasp on to in the turbulent times ahead. You’ve always been his touchstone, and as much as you are in doubt about the true nature of his regard, you cannot doubt that. Though I believe if you bothered to truly look, and actually give up your silence on the matter, you’d find that your doubts can be easily put to rest.”

“Duck,” Gibbs began tiredly.

“I’ve never agreed with your reasons for keeping him at arm’s length, however, I understood them. But I dare say you should consider that it will hurt no less to lose him whether you’ve let him close or not.”

He nearly flinched at that.

“Whether today, or someday soon, you should speak. I’ve known Anthony for a great many years now, and unless he has a reason not to, he’ll withdraw from everyone to protect himself from further pain.”

“This sounds like emotional blackmail.”

“Nonsense. If your regard for one another is mutual and sincere, it would be foolish not to lean upon one another in this time of great distress.” At Gibbs’ expression, Ducky sighed and added, “Promise me you’ll consider what I’ve said, and not just dismiss it out of hand.”

Gibbs sighed. “Yeah, Duck, I’ll think about it.” That wasn’t a terribly hard promise to make because he frequently thought about it. He’d just never changed his mind before.

– – – –

Gibbs’ first look at Tony was an actual improvement over the emergency room. Everything had been cleaned and bandaged so the impression of chaos and blood was gone. He also seemed more relaxed, though Gibbs attributed that to whatever was coming into his IV drip. His left arm was bound tightly to his chest, which was bare, and, even through the blankets, Gibbs could see the layers of bandages on his abdomen. His left leg was splinted and elevated.

From what he’d been told, Tony had woken once in recovery and not since, though they would get insistent about trying to rouse him soon. Gibbs wasn’t normally one for sitting by hospital beds, but when Tony had recovered from the plague, he spent more than one night by Tony’s bedside. He doubted Tony ever realized how much Gibbs had been there. This time, he felt drained of any will to be anywhere else.

He’d been managing this thing with him and Tony by not dealing with it; partly because, even for Gibbs, Tony was a difficult read, but also because of rule twelve. Gibbs hadn’t wanted to see the team implode if something had gone wrong between them. Hell, it could have imploded if things had gone right. But there was no team now to worry about.

If Gibbs had his way, McGee and David would be out of the agency and out of law enforcement entirely. Rule one was number one for a reason; there was no greater crime in Gibbs’ mind than betrayal, whether the partner was the agent sitting at the next desk, or your spouse sleeping beside you.

As for Tony… Gibbs had a suspicion that once Vance finally took a good look at Tony’s file that the pressure for him to take his own team would be high. Gibbs knew he’d been selfish in letting Tony stay as his SFA for so many years, but having someone on your six you could trust without reservation was something he’d come to depend on. He knew it wasn’t completely fair to Tony; both because of his own career, but also because Gibbs had never explained the reason why he’d never pushed for Tony to have a promotion beyond SFA.

Gibbs took a seat on Tony’s good side and just watched the man for several long minutes. Ducky was right; If Tony had died today, the pain would not have been less for Gibbs having kept his feelings to himself.

With a sigh, he took Tony’s hand. “You’d better get through this, DiNozzo, or I’m gonna kick your ass.” Tony’s fingers tightened around Gibbs’, but he didn’t seem to really wake.

It was about ten minutes later when those fingers tightened again and Tony gave a faint moan, head turning a bit to the right and his expression twisting with pain.

Gibbs stood up, keeping hold of Tony’s hand and leaned over him. “Come on, DiNozzo, time to wake up.”

Eyes still closed, he made some raspy noise. There was water and ice already by the bedside, so Gibbs released his hand even though Tony tried to hold on, and got the straw to his mouth. “Take a drink, Tony.”

After a couple sips, Tony blinked, then squeezed his eyes shut.

“I’ll get the light. Hold on.” He turned the room lights off and returned. “That should be better. Try again.”

Tony’s eyes slitted open. “Hurts,” he managed. Gibbs pressed the call button.

The next few minutes were busy as a couple nurses and then the doctor came in. Though Tony was in a lot of pain, he was able to articulate that different areas hurt worse; his head seemed to be the absolute worst of it. He was on a constant level of pain medication, but was able to get additional pain relief every few minutes through a button. There were questions for Tony and adjustments to dosages and Tony seemed confused and wrung out by the time they left.

Gibbs sat next to the bed again and took Tony’s hand again without thinking too much about it. They’d sort this out eventually.

Tony held on tightly, peering at him blearily. “McGee and Ziva okay? They hurt?”

Feeling like his chest was constricted, Gibbs managed to neutrally respond, “They’re fine. Not a bruise between them.”

Brows knitted in confusion, Tony asked, “Where were they?”

Gibbs was actually surprised Tony remembered enough of what happened to ask these questions. He reached up and cupped Tony’s face, noting the faint look of surprise. “I need you to trust me when I say we’ll talk about it tomorrow.”

“Boss…” Tony said haltingly.

“Trust me, Tony.”

“Always.”

Gibbs chest felt tight for an entirely different reason. He wasn’t sure he entirely deserved that level of faith. “Go back to sleep. I’ve got your six.”

– – – –

“I’ve persuaded them that having you leave is not in their or Tony’s best interests, Jethro,” Ducky said as he handed Gibbs a cup of coffee, from which he gratefully took a large drink. As visiting hours neared their end, they had tried to persuade Gibbs to leave, but he had just glared and said no. Ducky had fortunately been back for a bit at that point and had stepped out to talk with the on-call doctor.

“How’d you manage that?”

“I regaled the physician with tales of Anthony’s history of signing himself out of the hospital AMA, refusing to take his necessary medications and generally being difficult. I stressed that you were nearly the only person capable of tempering his excesses in response to his aversion to medical establishments such as these.”

“Bit of exaggeration in there, Duck.”

“Not as much as you seem to think, Jethro. The more powerless Anthony feels, the harder he fights to retreat to safe ground, which, for him, means being alone.” He pinned Gibbs with a look. “I daresay you’d be safe ground as well, but I doubt he realizes it’s an avenue open to him.”

Gibbs glared for a moment, but then conceded, “I’ll make sure he knows this time.”

Ducky brightened. “That is excellent news. I will remain for another hour or so, but then must be going. Of course, I shall return if you have need of me, and Mr. Palmer will be by in the morning with a few things for Anthony.”

“Things?”

“Yes, he has keys to Anthony’s apartment and will retrieve some essentials. I assume you’ll be here all night?”

“Yeah.” He had no plans to be anywhere else.

“Then I shall stop by your home in the morning and retrieve your bag. If you need anything else, you’re of course welcome to ring. Naturally, I am aware that one should never pay a visit without bearing coffee.”

Gibbs snorted. After a minute, he reluctantly asked, “Will you keep Abby posted?”

Ducky’s brows went up. “Yes, of course.” The question was obvious and Gibbs let it sit for a bit.

Finally, he offered, “I was disappointed in her today. With everything happening here… I don’t trust myself not to say something irrevocable.”

“I see. Well then, I shall field her inquiries. Do let me know when you’re ready for her to visit Anthony.”

Carefully choosing his words, because there was no way of knowing how much Tony was hearing and absorbing right now, he said, “Not until he knows the entirety of the situation, and she’s not going to bring guilt or emotional manipulation into the situation.”

“Guilt?” Ducky asked sounding bemused.

“She’s sympathizing with other parties in this mess.”

“Excuse me?” Ducky said, sounding affronted. “While I confess that I personally have not had time to process the implications of the day’s events, my sympathies were only with the injured party. How could she…” he trailed off, then sighed. “I love her dearly, Jethro, but she’s entirely too accustomed to getting her way.”

Gibbs rubbed his forehead, feeling a headache coming on. That was his failing, and in time, he’d have to deal with it. But not today.

– – – –

“Agent Gibbs,” a voice said softly, jolting him out of the half asleep state he’d been in.

He looked up to find Palmer standing on the opposite side of Tony’s bed, a duffle bag slung over his shoulder and tray of coffee in his hand. He scrubbed his hands over his face. “Just ‘Gibbs’ is fine, Palmer.”

“Oh, okay. Um… thanks, uh, Gibbs.” He passed over the tray of coffees. “The nurse thought I was bringing in coffee for Tony, too, and she wasn’t happy. I’m not sure she believed me when I told her it was all for you.”

Gibbs happily took the first of four hot coffees and set the tray on the bedside table. “Thanks.”

“I’m sure they’ll let you use the microwave in the breakroom for the rest.”

He sort of doubted they’d last long enough to get seriously cold. He was in dire need of the caffeine right now.

Palmer set the bag down on the empty chair on Tony’s left side. “I got him some clothes, though it seems like he won’t need them for a while. Also, his robe, his iPod, and his Kindle. I’m pretty sure he can manage that one-handed.”

“His what?”

“Kindle. It’s an e-reader.”

“A what reader?”

“Oh, um, it’s for reading electronic books. He has a lot of them. He has magazine and newspaper subscriptions on it, too.”

At some confusion in Gibbs’ expression, Palmer pulled open the bag and spent the next ten minutes explaining the “Kindle” to Gibbs. The only reason he tolerated the demonstration is because he wouldn’t mind reading the paper right about now.

“How’s Tony doing?” Palmer asked when they were finished with the little white reader thingy.

“Rough night. He kept waking up in pain. But they adjusted his pain meds again and he settled down about two hours ago.”

Palmer peered at the pump dispensing Tony’s pain medication. “They switched him from morphine to Dilaudid.”

“That good or bad?”

“It’s just stronger. It doesn’t really mean anything unless he tolerates one better than the other. I know he’s not great with morphine anyway, so maybe he’ll have better luck with this.” He shuffled awkwardly for a few seconds. “Well, um, I’m going to go, I guess. I’ll be by later to see Tony.” He handed Gibbs a paper bag. “Breakfast,” he offered sounding uncertain.

Gibbs nodded. “Thanks, Palmer.”

“Sure, Ag-uh Gibbs.”

When he was alone again, Gibbs cast an assessing eye over Tony. He was still pale, but it was made worse by the bruises that had come up overnight in a horrible patchwork of blues and purples and reds. “You look like hell, Tony,” he murmured.

He quickly finished his first coffee and started his second while pulling up today’s paper on Tony’s Kindle-thingy. He found it fairly easy to navigate and easier to read, so even though it was a “device,” he found he didn’t mind too much.

He was nearly done with the paper when Ducky’s voice caught his attention. “Good lord, Jethro, are you using an e-reader?”

“It’s Tony’s,” he replied as he set it on the bedside table. “Of all the gadgets I’ve seen him with over the years, this one makes some actual sense.”

Ducky chuckled as he handed off Gibbs’ bag. He stepped close to the bed and gave a sigh. “Goodness gracious, Anthony, you do look a fright today. I spoke to your doctor and he said you had a rather difficult night. I confess that I’m not terribly surprised, but we’ll get you well, dear boy, never fear.” He patted Tony’s arm gently.

“Sayin’ I’m not pretty?” Tony rasped, eyes squinting at the light even as they sought out Gibbs.

Gibbs nodded in a way he hoped was reassuring, and Tony shifted his attention to Ducky, who was attempting to ply him with water.

“Good morning, my boy. I refuse be drawn into feeding your vanity, as you know your good looks will endure long past a few bruises,” Ducky said teasingly. “However, you are rather colorful at the moment. Now, tell me how you’re feeling?”

“Honestly? ‘Bout as bad as I ever have. Head hurts. Fuck, everything hurts.”

“You should press the button on your PCA, my boy. There’s no point in suffering needlessly,” Ducky chided.

“Want to be awake,” Tony complained

“A day or two of rest will do wonders, and then you can be alert without the agony you are no doubt experiencing.”

Gibbs stepped close, edging Ducky over a bit, and leaned down. “I don’t know how much you recall of last night… do you remember them telling you that you needed to have an operation on your leg this morning?”

Tony frowned, but then gave a very abbreviated nod, followed by a wince.

“Good. Then hit the damn button. They’ll be here soon and you might as well rest.”

“Am I…” Tony trailed off and swallowed convulsively. “Is my leg gonna be okay?”

“Doc thinks so; if you do your rehab and follow orders.”

“I’m good at following orders,” Tony mumbled.

“You’re lousy at following orders,” Gibbs countered.

“Follow your orders,” Tony retorted.

“I know you do, Tony,” he replied gently. “So hit the button, and I’ll be here after you get that leg fixed.”

“’Kay,” he said, even as he pressed it. Barely thirty seconds passed before he was asleep again.

Gibbs blew out a breath and sat back in his chair.

Ducky squeezed his shoulder. “Perhaps a shower and a change of clothes?”

“I’ll do it while he’s in surgery.”

“I spoke with Leon this morning. Oh, not about the complications surrounding Tony, but rather about taking the day. I’ve never seen this particular procedure performed and Dr. Lim has granted permission for me to be in the operating room. The good director was agreeable to my absence, though he requests that you call him as soon as you’re available.”

– – – –

Tired, but refreshed, Gibbs stepped out of the hospital and walked to the nearest coffee shop. Though he had a cup and a half sitting on Tony’s bedside table, he wanted fresh. He’d reheat the other later when he was desperate for more caffeine.

As he walked, he called Vance, who picked up on the second ring. “How’s DiNozzo?” he asked immediately, and Gibbs appreciated that it was the first question.

“They’re operating on his leg now. Some sort of big nail they’re going to put down his leg. Otherwise, he’s hanging in. He’s tough… he’ll be okay.”

“Give him my best when he’s awake.”

Gibbs’ brows shot up. “You think he’d believe me, Leon?”

Vance snorted. “Probably not, but do it anyway. As for the other issues… McGee and David have been suspended without pay. McGee was accepting, David was not. I’ll admit, McGee seemed really shaken by everything that’s happened, and very concerned about DiNozzo. The internal investigation has already begun and the disciplinary hearing will be next Tuesday. They may want to talk to Tony at some point.”

“Why?” Gibbs nearly snarled. “There’s nothing Tony could possibly offer that isn’t on that tape.”

“I know that, Gibbs, but whatever defense of their actions McGee or David offer may need to be countered by Tony himself.”

“That’s bullshit and you know it, because there is no defense for those actions. Even if they loathed Tony, would it be reason to leave him without backup?”

“No,” Vance conceded.

“Then you tell them that. Remind them that making Tony defend himself is basically saying there might be a reason for an agent to do something like this again.”

“They may still have questions for him, Gibbs. It’s not entirely in my hands. You can’t stand between DiNozzo and this problem.”

“Watch me,” Gibbs snapped before flipping his phone shut.

– – – –

Gibbs met up with Ducky back in Tony’s room while Tony was in recovery. He would be brought back to this room where he’d stay for at least another day or two before being transferred to a regular ward.

“How’d it go?” he asked brusquely.

“Very well. There were no complications, and the procedure itself was fascinating, though, as with many orthopedic procedures, they seem quite violent in many respects.” He let Ducky ramble about the details of the procedure because he knew his friend needed it. Although, if he truly understood any of what Ducky was talking about, he doubted he’d want to hear it.

Eventually, he had to stop the flow of words. “Duck.”

“Oh, quite right, Jethro. I’m afraid my enthusiasm quite ran away with me. Did you speak with Director Vance?”

“Yeah,” he answered, still annoyed about part of the conversation. He filled Ducky in on what they’d discussed.

“Well, I can certainly understand your point, and I agree with you, but the Director is only stating fact when he says the matter may be out of his hands.”

Gibbs shot Ducky a baleful look, but decided to change the subject. “How’s Abby taking it?”

Ducky’s expression shifted to something Gibbs couldn’t quite read before it was gone. “I certainly could see what you meant about her… attitude. While she requested repeatedly to visit, she does seem more focused on the team breaking up and Agents David and McGee possibly losing their positions with the agency.”

Crumpling up his coffee cup, Gibbs threw it into the trash with rather more force than was necessary. He expected better of her, and it was throwing him in a way he couldn’t deal with at the moment.

“You won’t be able to keep her away forever, Jethro. And you exaggerated the visiting restrictions on this ward. Surgical ICU is strict, but not nearly as much as ICU proper.”

“I know.” He blew out a breath. “But even if Abby promised to be silent on everything that’s happened, she wouldn’t be able to hide it from Tony. If he prodded, you know she’d blurt it out. I want him to know and have time to deal with it first. He also doesn’t need her in here advocating for them.”

“I understand and I agree with you, but because you can’t keep her away forever, you must reconcile yourself to telling Anthony what has occurred sooner rather than later.”

“You think I planned on keeping it secret? But when exactly was I supposed to tell him? When he was nearly out of his head with pain, or when he was unconscious from pain medication?” Gibbs bit out.

“That was not a criticism, Jethro, simply an expression of urgency.”

Gibbs ran a hand through his hair. “Yeah, I know.”

– – – –

Chapter Four

Gibbs was worried, and perfectly willing to admit it to anyone but Tony. It had been a day since the second surgery and Tony wasn’t doing well. Not because of the leg or gunshot wound or even the spleen; those wounds were doing as well as could be expected with only 48 hours of healing. No, the issue was his head. He was awake more, but nearly incapacitated by headaches.

Tony was presently having some neurological tests, so Gibbs was taking the opportunity to listen to his accumulation of voicemails. Even though hospitals had relaxed their policy about cell phones in patient rooms, he wasn’t going to make or take calls while Tony was in the room doing his best to recover.

McGee had called twice, wanting to check on Tony and apologizing for what had happened. Said he’d like to talk to Gibbs directly about it at some point.

David had also called, but had asked that Gibbs help her by talking to Vance and fixing the situation so things could return to normal. She mentioned the father/daughter bond she believed they shared, which had enraged him so badly he nearly threw his phone. She never asked about Tony.

Abby had called repeatedly. Instead of listening to the messages, he deleted them. He didn’t want his opinion of her affected any more than it already had been. The fact that she was calling when he’d told her not to let him know the messages would just piss him off.

Since Tony was out of the room, he decided to go ahead and quickly call her.

“Gibbs! When can I see Tony? Oh my god, you won’t believe the questions the investigators have been asking Ziva and McGee! I swear it doesn’t look good for them, Gibbs. You have to help.”

He ground his teeth and prayed for patience. “Abby, I’m going to say this one more time. I will tell you when you can visit. Do not call me unless you personally are in danger, and then you better have called 911 first. If you call again, I’ll put you on a banned visitors list and you won’t see Tony until he asks for you.”

“Gibbs,” she whispered sounding wounded.

“Stop it, Abby. You’re not my priority right now. Every time you ignore what I’ve told you it proves you shouldn’t be here.” He closed the phone before she could say anything else. Yes, he was in the habit of ending calls abruptly, but he did it this time to avoid saying what was really on his mind; that she needed to grow the fuck up.

With some reluctance, he called and advised Vance that Abby was very wrapped up in the situation with McGee and David. It was expected to some degree, but if it was beginning to affect her ability to do her job, Gibbs was in no position to evaluate it or handle it while he was at the hospital. So he lobbed it over the wall at the director.

When Tony was wheeled back, the neurologist came with. Tony looked strung out and in agony. They immediately gave him pain medication and he was quickly back to sleep. The doctor took the time to explain that they still needed to evaluate the test results, but that he seemed to be doing fairly well other than the crippling headaches. Gibbs wasn’t sure how that could equate to doing “well.” They planned to reduce his pain medication to what he needed for the other injuries and try some other combination of drugs for the headaches.

Most of it was over Gibbs’ head, but he got her to agree to discuss it with Ducky, who would be back at the end of the work day.

– – – –

Friday morning, three days since the attack, found Tony doing somewhat better. He’d had more conscious moments overnight, but dealing with the reality of being seriously injured had left little time for talking about the precipitating events or anything more personal.

The chair they’d brought in for Gibbs was a recliner of sorts, and he’d been managing to get some rest, but he was nearing the point when he would need to go home and get actual sleep. However, he didn’t want to be gone when Tony was finally with it enough to talk about what happened. Leaving that issue hanging or in someone else’s hands wasn’t an option as far as he was concerned.

Gibbs was reading the morning paper on Tony’s e-thingy when Tony stirred and asked for water. Once his throat was a little less parched and the head of the bed had been raised a bit, Gibbs asked, “How are you feeling today?”

“Better,” Tony replied unconvincingly. He may have seemed more alert, but he certainly didn’t appear to be better.

Gibbs gave him a look. “More detail. Pretend I’m making you write a report.”

Tony made a face. “I feel like shit, Boss, but it’s not as… unbearable,” he finally said. “I’d rather hurt a little than be so drugged up, okay? The new medication for my head seems to be helping. I don’t feel like my brain is about to leak out my ears. Good enough?”

“Yeah. Good enough, Tony.”

“I’d like to know what happened, Boss. Every time I have three seconds of rational thought, I think about it, and I admit, I’m thinking the worst.” His expression was drawn and pinched from illness and pain, and probably from anticipation of what might be coming.

Gibbs wondered if this was the right time, but when exactly would be the right time for this sort of thing? Tony was too stubborn to let this go as long as might be good for him, and Gibbs knew he himself wouldn’t tolerate not knowing. “I assume you remember getting the voiceprints in Royal Woods?”

Tony carefully wasn’t moving. They’d learned the hard way that head movements were unwelcome. “I remember everything up to being on the phone with Alex. I don’t really remember him arriving, but I can only assume he did since I’m alive. I want to know why I was attacked and where my backup was, since I seem to recall you reassured me several times that they’re okay.”

“You stumbled into a house with about a quarter billion in heroin being prepared for distribution. The DEA has the case, and they determined the guy who recognized you was from Philly. It was a bizarre set of coincidences. He didn’t explicitly remember you were a cop or your name, but you set off warning alarms in his head and he asked the homeowner to call you back because he was suspicious. The other two are dead. One was the homeowner, the other an ‘entrepreneur’ from New York.”

Obviously thinking through that, and clearly not at his usual speed, Tony eventually sighed. “So bad fucking luck.”

“Basically, but you did good, Tony. You held your own when two of them were armed and got out alive. I could never ask for more than that.”

Tony’s cheeks flushed and he glanced away briefly. “And Ziva and McGee? Where were they?” He was tense, clearly having surmised that it was nothing good.

Gibbs sighed, and decided blunt was always best with Tony. “They only listened to the surveillance feed for about a half hour. The investigation into the violation of procedure is out of my hands, but it seems they were bored or some other crap and decided to read in silence.”

Tony’s hand fisted in the material of his blankets, the other hand fisting where it rested on his chest, bound there due to the gunshot wound. His eyes closed as if in pain, but Gibbs knew it wasn’t physical this time. He knew Tony had felt the sting of betrayal from at least one partner in the past, but certainly nothing on this scale.

“And what now?” he asked tightly.

“The disciplinary committee will have a hearing on Tuesday to determine what happens to McGee and David.”

“What’s most likely?” he asked without inflection.

“David was probationary; I can’t see how they’ll keep her on. I don’t know about McGee. They could decide to reassign him.”

Tony gave him an intense look. “Is that what you want?”

Gibbs raised a brow. “What I want? No, Tony. What I want is for them both to be fired. I regret that NCIS isn’t military so I can have them both thrown in Leavenworth for dereliction of duty.”

Expression conveying surprise, Tony managed, “Boss…”

“Jesus, Tony, how can you think I’d want to keep them around? Aside from breaking my most important rule, the unbreakable rule, don’t you know you’re more important to me than that?”

“I…” he looked more than a little lost. “I don’t really think I know where I fit in your world, Gibbs.”

Gibbs blinked. Someone needed to put a boot up his ass if he’d been giving signals that mixed. “Dammit, Tony…” He sighed. “This isn’t the right time for this conversation, but there’s no one, no one, more important to me than you. When you’re ready, we’ll talk about it, okay? But even if that wasn’t true, I’d never tolerate agents on my team who’d pull a stupid stunt like that.”

Tony just stared at him, expression primarily stuck on astonishment, but he thought he’d seen a moment of happiness in there. Maybe Ducky was right after all.

“Is this finally the death of silence?” Tony murmured.

“What?”

“I wondered what it would take to kill your silence… is this it? Are you going to really talk to me now, or will it be back once I’m out of here and you’re not thinking I’m gonna fall apart at any minute?”

Gibbs shook his head in rueful amusement. He wouldn’t be Tony if he didn’t push. “I’ll talk to you, Tony. But don’t expect miracles.” He put his hand over the back of Tony’s still-clenched fist and squeezed briefly.

Tony turned his hand over and latched onto Gibbs’. “I’m a realist, Gibbs. Besides, seems I may have already gotten one.”

– – – –

Sunday morning, Gibbs entered the hospital feeling rested. He’d finally had to go home last night and get some real sleep after four nights sleeping in the recliner by Tony’s bed. Tony had practically kicked him out and told him to get some sleep. He was awake for longer periods of time and seemed to be getting better, though he was emotionally withdrawing. Gibbs understood it, but he didn’t like it.

Tony put up a good front of being okay, but whenever he was caught in an unguarded moment, the devastation he was feeling was only too obvious. They’d had to go through the painful chore of getting Tony’s official statement, forcing him to relive not only the attack, but his repeated, unanswered requests for backup. Tony had gone completely silent after that for several hours. Gibbs didn’t know how to help other than just be there and hope Tony would talk about it eventually.

They planned to move him down to the regular ward today, which was a mark of his improvement. All his wounds were healing as expected, though his headaches were still the worst part as far as Tony was concerned.

While Gibbs was away from the hospital, he’d taken the time to swing by NCIS and get caught up on email and reports. Balboa’s team had caught the domestic terrorist cell and saved a lot of people. Gibbs knew he’d made the right choice in pulling that team in.

He stopped by the nurses’ desk to see how Tony had fared overnight; most of the nurses recognized him by now. “How’s Tony?” he asked one of RNs usually assigned to Tony’s care.

She offered him a smile. “He did well last night. Nothing to indicate that he won’t be able to move downstairs today. He does have a visitor. She arrived before visiting hours even began, so we only let her in about ten minutes ago. I confess, she’s a bit of an odd one.”

Gibbs stiffened. “Goth?”

“Yes, very much so, at least in appearance. But much more exuberant than one might expect.”

Dammit! He hadn’t put Abby on the restricted list because she’d done as he’d ordered and stopped calling. It was suspicious that she chose the first morning Gibbs wasn’t at the hospital to come here. He didn’t want to think that she’d been tracking his phone, but it was that or she’d been harassing the hospital for his movements. The latter was highly unlikely as he was certain they’d have mentioned that to him had it occurred.

At the door to Tony’s room, he peered in through the window and found Abby perched on the chair Gibbs usually occupied, which put her back to the door — something Gibbs wasn’t fond of himself, but he wasn’t prepared to sit on Tony’s bad side. Her hands were moving furiously and she clearly had Tony’s full attention. Except he didn’t look happy; his expression was almost blank except for faint signs of stress.

Gibbs managed to crack the door open without being heard and paused to listen.

“— Timmy said. So you see, Tony, from everything I’ve heard, it doesn’t look good for them. The disciplinary hearing is in two days, but maybe if you talked to Gibbs and the both of you called Vance, we could stop this! I mean, if it came from you, they’d have to listen. I know what they did was wrong, way wrong, and they know it, too, you have to believe me on that. They’ll never do anything like that again, but it was just a mistake… it was kind of a joke. You’re always making jokes and it was just some payback – AHH!” she yelped in shock.

Gibbs wasn’t even aware of entering the room, he had just seen red at her blatant emotional manipulation and that bullshit justification. He pulled her out of the chair and steered her out of the room.

“Gibbs, wait… let me explain,” Abby said.

“Shut. Up,” he said lowly as he guided her to the private waiting room, which was fortunately unoccupied at this hour. He forced himself to step back from her and out of reaching distance. “What the hell did you think you were doing?”

Her eyes were tearing up. “Gibbs, you don’t understand. McGee and Ziva are going to be fired… they both think so from the tone of the questioning. I know you don’t really want that, and I know Tony wouldn’t want that. I had to talk to him, and you are keeping me away.”

“You’re wrong. I do want them fired. If it were my choice, they would have been fired on Tuesday when I found out they turned off their damn comms and left him to die. And right now, as angry as I am, I’d fire you, too.”

She gasped, looking like he’d wounded her mortally. “How can you say that?”

“How did you know I wouldn’t be here? The very first visiting hours I haven’t been here and you happen to show up?”

Her guilty expression said everything.

“Abby!” he snapped.

She jumped. “I’ve been tracking your phone.”

His jaw was clenched so tight, he was lucky he didn’t break teeth. “How dare you come and try to manipulate Tony into helping the people responsible for putting Tony in that hospital bed.”

Abby straightened her spine. “I think you have Tim and Ziva confused with the criminals who assaulted Tony.”

“No! Considering how far away they were, if they had responded the first time Tony asked for backup, they should have arrived before the first punch landed. Certainly before he was shot, had his leg broken and his skull fractured. So you tell me how they aren’t responsible for the condition he’s in?”

“Gibbs, please…”

“In case it’s not perfectly clear to you, I’m going to use very plain, specific words; even if Tony wanted to talk to the disciplinary committee, it actually worked, and those two idiots kept their jobs, I would never work with them again. I certainly wouldn’t have them on my team. I would make sure every team lead in the damn agency knew what they’d done so they wouldn’t find anywhere to go. Do you get it?”

“I… I know that’s what you said before, but I thought you’d change your mind when you weren’t so angry,” she whispered.

“If you think I’d change my mind about that, you don’t know me at all.”

“Gibbs,” she said pleadingly.

“We’re done. You are now on the restricted list, you won’t be able to see him until he asks. I don’t want you here.”

“But Tony’s my friend,” she said stubbornly.

“You have a pathetic way of showing it.” He started to leave, but turned back. “Tomorrow, you need to go to Vance and explain to him that you’ve been tracking my movements and why.”

“I can’t!” she responded sounding horrified. “I’ll get in so much trouble.”

“Precisely.” He left her with tears welling in her eyes again and went back to Tony’s room.

Tony was staring out the window, his expression tight. Gibbs sat and let the silence reign for several long moments. Finally, Tony said, “Should I be trying to help them?”

“No. I sure as hell won’t, and as much as I hate shrinks, I’ll be asking for a psych eval if you even think about it,” he retorted immediately.

Green eyes filled with too much pain fixed on Gibbs. “I feel like I’m betraying everything we’ve worked toward.”

“Abby put that bullshit in your head. The only betrayal going on is from those two dolts. Now, stop it.”

Tony sighed, but didn’t really look convinced. “I can tell you want to headsmack me.”

“Damn right. The stupider the shit that comes out of your mouth is, the more I want to headslap you. And that was one of the stupidest things you’ve ever said.”

Tony’s lips twitched in faint amusement. “That hurts, Gibbs.”

Gibbs snorted, but he wasn’t truly amused, because he knew there was new hurt there. And not what Gibbs had said or done, but what Abby had done. Damn her.

– – – –

The orderlies helped get Tony’s casted leg into the agency sedan Gibbs was using, having assumed that Tony wouldn’t be able to get into his pickup truck. It had been a week since the fiasco with Abby, twelve days since the attack, which put Tony checking out of the hospital on Halloween. Tony had mostly done well, but there had been a few complications along the way, largely due to the head injury.

Discharge had been a logistical mess that had led to more than one argument; Tony could go home and have a near full time nurse, go to a rehab facility, or go with Gibbs and have a part time nurse and physical therapy visits. Tony had wanted to go home. Gibbs had said no.

Tony had become increasingly more withdrawn over the week since Abby’s visit, and Gibbs worried that too much time alone and he’d never get his Tony back. It didn’t help that the medication they were using to treat the inflammation in his brain was making Tony grumpy as all hell and he was much less tolerant of anything than the Tony Gibbs was used to. He’d even bitten Ducky’s head off a couple days back. Fortunately they were weaning him off that medication and he would be completely done with it in a few days.

Gibbs shut the car door, noting but not commenting on Tony’s pallor. He stowed the wheelchair in the trunk; the item Tony hated would be a necessity for a while. Tony would normally manage just fine with crutches, but with his shoulder injury, it wasn’t a possibility.

Once they were settled and on the way to Gibbs’ place, and Tony was looking a little less like he was about to vomit, Tony moodily offered, “You know this makes you a complete prick, right?”

“What does?”

“This! Forcing me to stay with you when I just want to go home!”

Hands clenched on the steering wheel, Gibbs forced himself to be calm when he replied, “I checked the maintenance log on your elevator, Tony; it averages being out of service one day out of four. Twenty-five percent downtime is not acceptable when you’re like this. If you have an emergency, you’ve compromised your ability to get to help. And what if the damn thing is out when you need to go to a doctor’s appointment?”

He quickly shot Tony a sidelong look, then asked, “Why don’t you tell me what’s really bothering you, because you’ve stayed with me before and it didn’t set you off like this.”

“I just want to be alone!”

“You mean you want to lick your wounds in private,” he returned bluntly.

“Fuck you, Gibbs!”

He let that go. “You won’t talk about it, but I know this was like having your guts ripped out, Tony. You’ve been trying to build up yet another wall between you and the world, and if you hide out you’ll probably succeed.”

“Remind me why I wanted you to stop being silent?” Tony said waspishly.

“Stop being a dick, Tony.”

“Me?” he asked incredulously. “I’m not the one with the push-pull that drives me fucking nuts!”

“And what exactly is that supposed to mean?” Gibbs asked, praying for patience.

“It means, when I want to be around you, you tell me to go away. But when I want to be left alone, you force me to be with you. That’s what makes you a prick. When I want you, I can’t have you, but when you want something… well, it’s all your way, isn’t it?”

Gibbs decided not to address this in the car. It was already turning into a fight and they both needed to cool off. Fortunately Tony was willing to accept the silence and not keep pushing.

He knew the week had been hard on Tony; Ducky had been after him about feeling inappropriate guilt when the disciplinary committee had given their ruling. They had fired David outright since she was a probationary agent, but they had wanted to give McGee a lengthy suspension and reassignment to Cyber Crimes. Problem with that plan was that even though the events weren’t common knowledge, at least not yet, the DEA knew about it. The head of the DEA had brought the subject up to SECNAV, who didn’t care for being embarrassed in front of another agency head. The man made it clear to Vance and the disciplinary committee that he could care less about the benefit of one agent’s computer skills. He wanted McGee gone. Which is exactly what happened.

Abby had been suspended for a week for her inappropriate use of agency resources, and so far had not been allowed to see Tony again, though she passed on messages through Ducky and Palmer at every opportunity. When Tony wasn’t feeling guilty about Abby, he was angry at her, and with his moods so unsteady, he hadn’t asked to see her.

Ducky and Palmer had been daily visitors, and, oddly, Palmer was the best at calming Tony down and drawing him out. Gibbs really didn’t understand their friendship, but he didn’t really need to as long as it was helping.

Balboa’s team was standing in for the MCRT. It would be at least four more weeks before Tony would even be fit for desk duty, and they needed to field an entirely new team in the interim. Gibbs sure as hell wasn’t working with a bunch of TADs for all that time. Vance was making noise about Gibbs running special ops from MTAC for the duration, but Gibbs wasn’t ready to commit to it yet; he needed to see how things went with Tony first.

Gibbs pulled up in front of his house, which was a fairly short distance from the hospital, since Gibbs actually lived in Alexandria.

Tony was peering intently at the house. “You installed a wheelchair ramp?”

That wasn’t all he’d done. He’d cleared out the den and set up it up so Tony could use it as a bedroom downstairs, then made certain the wheelchair had a clear path through the house.

He decided not to respond to the obvious question of the ramp, and instead got the chair out of the back and helped Tony out of the car. Apparently getting out of the car was worse than getting in. Tony was pale and sweating by the time he was situated in the chair.

Once they were inside, and he had Tony comfortably settled on the couch with his leg propped up and a pain pill, Gibbs seated himself on the coffee table directly in front of Tony. “I know you’re buried in guilt and anger, and probably feeling powerless doesn’t help, but I want you to hear what I’m saying, because I don’t plan to do this twice.”

Tony looked defensive, so Gibbs waited. After a few moments, he nodded and seemed more receptive.

“You aren’t an easy read; not even for me, and I think I read you better than most people. The push-pull, as you call it, was mostly my own uncertainty. I’m not saying it was fair, but there’s nothing I can do it about it now. The thing is, Tony, I always want you around, but I’ve never been certain why you want to be here.”

“Why do you want me around?” Tony asked cautiously. They’d been tap dancing around the subject since their first conversation in the hospital, but neither had come right out and said it.

He reminded himself that blunt always worked with Tony. “Because you make me want to take rule twelve out of the book, but I didn’t know what you wanted. Rule twelve existed in the first place to keep things at the office from going to hell if things don’t work out. Or even if it goes nowhere and there’s awkward bullshit that gets in the way of the job.”

Tony’s green eyes were wide, and his expression was vulnerable. “Wow. You really are talking to me. Why take the chance? What’s to say things won’t go to hell at work?”

“Worse than they already have?” he asked wryly.

“Point,” Tony conceded. “So you’re saying we have nothing left to lose?”

“No. I’m saying work doesn’t matter. On the nineteenth I discovered just how much I have to lose, and I honestly couldn’t bear the idea.”

Biting his lip briefly, Tony eventually asked, “So that’s why the end of the silence?”

“I’ve never been a chatterbox, and never will be, but I will talk to you… if it’s what you want,” he said leadingly.

“It is,” Tony replied softly on a breath. “It always has been. I– I’ve been gone on you practically since we met. I actually thought I was kind of transparent.”

The relief he felt at the confirmation that they wanted the same thing eclipsed the absurd statement that Tony was in any way transparent. He had more layers and masks and barriers than even Gibbs had. Though, to be fair, Tony had always tried hard to get close to Gibbs. It was the obviousness of it that threw him so far off, because it was so out of character. Maybe that should have been a clue.

“So… what now?” Tony asked, picking at the afghan Gibbs had thrown over him.

“You recover, we talk, and somewhere along the way, we’ll figure things out.”

Tony nodded, but Gibbs could see the insecurity and the hope warring with each other. Tony’d had a big knock recently, and trust was difficult.

“But first…” He went to one knee in front of the couch and cupped Tony’s face, getting a wide-eyed look in response. Slowly, waiting for any sign that Tony didn’t want this, he leaned forward and pressed his lips to Tony’s.

He’d intended it to be a simple affirmation, sealing their bargain, so to speak, but Tony immediately went pliant under his hands and mouth, and Gibbs felt like he’d been jolted with electricity. Tony gave a little moan and his lips parted. Gibbs couldn’t stop himself from pressing his tongue forward, tangling it with Tony’s, and exploring the mouth he’d been fantasizing about for nearly a decade.

When he finally pulled back, he was so tempted to go back in for more, and to ravage that long neck, but he knew they needed time. He pressed a chaste kiss to Tony’s mouth while running his thumbs along Tony’s cheekbones.

“Gibbs,” Tony whimpered in protest.

“Jethro,” he prompted.

“What?”

Feeling bold after the incredible kiss, Gibbs whispered, “People I’m in love with don’t call me ‘Gibbs,’ they call me ‘Jethro’.”

“Jethro,” Tony repeated, then smiled. It was so honest, and sincere, and happy that it made Gibbs’ breath catch. He hadn’t seen that smile in a long time, he realized; even before the horrible betrayal. But he decided he’d do everything in his power to see it again and again.

– – – –

Epilogue

Gibbs trailed his lips along the strong throat, across a collarbone, and over a ridge of maturing scar tissue. He found his way to Tony’s nipple; teasing one, then the other as Tony twisted and moaned underneath him.

He went back to the lush mouth that drove him absolutely insane; whether because he never knew what crazy things might be said, or because of the unbelievable skill when it was moving over his own flesh. Plundering Tony’s mouth, he slid completely on top of his lover, always gratified with the way Tony’s body accepted him, legs parting swiftly and wrapping around Gibbs’ hips. Their hard cocks immediately aligned and he thrust down.

Tony’s guttural moans were lost in their kiss until Gibbs pulled back and attacked the delectable throat again with his teeth, continuing the movement of his hips. When they’d worked up to a fever pitch, he slowed things down a bit by breaking the clutch of Tony’s legs as he knelt up and reached for the lube.

He slid two slick fingers inside his lover, finding him still somewhat loose from the night before. It was tempting to do a quick job with the prep, but he so loved finger-fucking Tony… watching him writhe and twist, responding so beautifully to just two or three fingers moving in his body.

“Jethro,” Tony gasped, back arching, riding Gibbs’ fingers with abandon.

Gibbs lost any semblance of patience and yanked his hand away, quickly applying lube to his cock and lining himself up with Tony’s entrance. He met Tony’s beautiful green eyes as he began steadily pressing inside. Once he bottomed out, he held still, simply taking in the incredibly beautiful man under him.

Tony’s legs wrapped tight around his waist again. “Move, dammit!”

Gibbs pulled back and snapped his hips forward, earning a breathy little whimper that was hard to come by but one of his favorite sounds. He repeated the move and got another before he settled into a deep fucking rhythm that had Tony clinging to him even as his body strove to meet the hard thrusts.

He knew they wouldn’t last long; they never seemed to in the mornings. There was a demanding impatience about Tony in the morning that he usually lacked at night. He liked it hard and fast right after waking up, and Gibbs was only too happy to oblige.

When Tony was being fucked, he preferred to come without having his cock stroked, and Gibbs loved that Tony was able to come on just his cock. He could tell by the fine tremors in Tony’s limbs that orgasm was already close, so he claimed Tony’s mouth again, tongue fucking him at the same rhythm, getting an appreciative moan for his efforts.

Tony’s body going rigid and his ass tightening around Gibbs’ cock was always a moment of complete perfection. Gibbs broke the kiss, burying his face in Tony’s neck and riding out the waves of Tony’s climax, almost surprised when his own orgasm slammed into him.

Long minutes later, he reluctantly rolled off his lover, pulling him close and relishing the way the long limbs wrapped around him.

“Merry Christmas, Jethro,” Tony murmured against his chest.

“Merry Christmas, sweetheart,” Gibbs returned softly with an endearment Tony only let him get away with in moments like these.

Gibbs wasn’t exactly surprised when only a few minutes later Tony had recovered enough to bound out of bed, talking excitedly about French toast as he made a beeline for the shower. Gibbs got up more sedately and joined Tony, managing to get clean around a lot of kissing and groping.

When Tony ran downstairs to make breakfast, Gibbs wanted to tell him to be careful, but he also didn’t want to start a fight, not today, so he kept quiet. Tony had extracted a promise that Gibbs would let up a little over the holiday weekend. It was a promise he was willing to make because Tony’s rehab was going well, even though at only two months, he still had weakness and muscle atrophy in his leg that gave him problems. He’d only been out of the cast for two weeks, an event which had allowed them to move upstairs to the master bedroom, but also saw Tony frequently overdoing it and ending the day with a limp.

Most of Tony’s injuries had been reduced to scarred reminders except the ongoing problem with headaches and the rehabilitation for his leg. The headaches could come on with frightening speed and intensity, and were definitely in the way of Tony being able to go back in the field. But Tony was determined, and Gibbs knew he’d get past it eventually. He’d get past all the physical issues in time.

For a while, he wasn’t sure Tony wanted to return to NCIS. McGee and David’s betrayal had cut him so deeply that Gibbs thought he might just give up entirely on law enforcement. He’d made passing, seemingly idle comments about never being able to trust anyone but Gibbs on his six again, and Gibbs knew that’s what Tony had been thinking and feeling. But about three weeks ago, he’d seemed to come to some decision when he’d told Gibbs he was ready to start looking at personnel files for their new team.

Gibbs didn’t kid himself, he knew Tony was never going to be the same. Some things changed a person forever, and even if the attack hadn’t done that, the cause of it certainly would have. Tony was quieter and more serious, but, at least with Gibbs, he was also more genuine as he learned to peel back the masks he normally used to keep people at a distance. It remained to be seen how he would be on the job. Though he was doing well with Ducky, Palmer, and a few other people he’d let come over.

McGee had left an open request to talk to Tony when he was ready. Tony definitely wasn’t, and Gibbs wondered if he ever would be. Last Gibbs had heard, McGee had obtained a job with a software company and had moved to North Carolina.

David had tried to get in touch with Gibbs several times, had even shown up at the house, but he had nothing to say to her. Certainly nothing pleasant. She’d never asked about or tried to see Tony. Then she’d dropped off the grid and no one, to Gibbs’ knowledge, knew what she was up to, though she was supposedly still in the US.

Ducky was continually poking at Gibbs about his own feelings on the matter of his former team, but for Gibbs the matter was simple; they’d betrayed Tony and him, and that was it. He didn’t deny the pain it had caused, but he didn’t need to express his feelings about it endlessly.

Gibbs had made peace with Abby, but it wasn’t like before. She was quietly resentful over the breakup of the team, and he wouldn’t ever forget her childish and selfish tantrum in the face of Tony’s suffering. Tony had talked to Abby a couple times and seen her once, but he was clearly angry with her. The more time passed, the more Tony let go of any guilt he felt over the loss of the team, but shedding that guilt opened the door for the justified anger. Abby’s sympathy for the people who’d caused him harm put her in the path of his rage. Gibbs knew Tony didn’t want to lash out, so he avoided her.

Gibbs had taken a couple weeks off entirely, then worked part time doing as Vance requested and running classified ops from MTAC. He had a stack of personnel files for him and Tony to go through to build the new team, and had been surprised at the number of people who wanted to work on the MCRT when it was reformed.

Friends Gibbs didn’t know Tony had came out of the woodwork over the last couple months. It was an adjustment for Gibbs to have people coming by, but he adapted because he didn’t want to see Tony shutting himself away when he was very social by nature. Although Tony was ready to leverage Gibbs’ taciturn nature to keep people away when he wasn’t in the mood for company.

After dressing and changing the sheets, Gibbs finally made his way downstairs, happy to hear the chatter between Tony and his dad. It amazed him how well Tony and Jack got on, but he was pleased by it. He wanted Tony in his life for the long haul.

He propped himself up against the doorway into the kitchen, watching them work. To him, the house seemed like the holidays had exploded all over it, but he realized that, for most people, the decorations were fairly restrained and tasteful.

When Jack caught sight of him, he smiled broadly. “Merry Christmas, Son.”

Gibbs’ lips turned up in a smile. “Merry Christmas, Dad.”

A few minutes later, they were seated at the table, enjoying breakfast. Gibbs had noted that Tony was limping a bit already, but wisely hadn’t commented on it. They discussed dinner; Ducky and Palmer would be joining them, and Tony and Jack had big food prep plans.

Gibbs felt the pang of loss that their number was so reduced. He was the first to admit that he’d never been one for holiday gatherings unless forced, but he’d taken comfort in knowing that his makeshift family were often all together. With two of them gone, and Abby uncertain, the holidays were, in their way, a painful reminder of the events in October. But they were also the marker of the new turn his life had taken; a much better turn.

After the breakfast dishes were cleaned up, the plan was to exchange gifts. “Dad, I’d like to take Tony to the basement for a minute.” He’d already warned his dad that he wanted to give Tony one of his gifts in private.

“Sure thing. I’ll be making hot chocolate… You boys don’t get up to anything frisky. There’ll be time enough for that later.”

“Jack!” Tony said, obviously fighting a blush even as he laughed.

“I’m not blind or deaf, Tony… I know you two go at it like rabbits. Just sayin’ there’s a time and place.”

Tony looked somewhere between amused and scandalized, but Gibbs was more than used to this kind of thing from his father, so he just grabbed Tony’s hand and pulled him toward the basement.

Once they were downstairs, Tony blinked in astonishment at the tarp-covered piece of furniture. “When did you manage this?”

It had been difficult keeping his project from Tony. Gibbs had had to keep it in pieces and assemble it at the last minute, plus misdirect Tony about what he was working on more than once. He’d only forbidden Tony from coming down to the basement two days ago so he could get the assembly done. He handed Tony the corner of the tarp so he could “unwrap” his gift.

Tony pulled back the tarp, exposing multiple pieces in a dark cherry finish designed to fit together. He stared, mouth hanging open for several seconds. “This looks like a TV cabinet.”

“It is.”

“But…” He stared at Gibbs for several seconds. “You just let me bring over the one little TV in the bedroom.”

“Well, we needed a place to put your big TV,” Gibbs replied blandly.

Tony looked back to the cabinet, running his hands over the smooth finish. “I’m trying not to read too much into this,” he admitted.

“Not sure you can read too much into it. I mean it to say I want you here — all of you. Permanently.”

Eyes wide, Tony was staring again. “It’s only been two months,” he whispered.

“It’s been ten years,” Gibbs countered.

Tony’s lips twitched. “You’ll get tired of me.”

“I won’t.” Gibbs knew that for certain. The last couple months had been difficult in a lot of ways, but they’d also been good. He and Tony fit; he’d go back in time and kick his own ass if he could.

“You sure?” Tony pressed.

“About wanting you here, or about not getting tired of you?”

“Either. Both.”

“Yeah, I’m sure. I love you, and I want you with me.” For Gibbs it was that simple. He didn’t like complicated reasoning or negotiating… he knew when something was right.

Tony began to smile; that open, bright, happy smile that Gibbs didn’t get to see nearly enough. Then Tony was in his arms, hugging until Gibbs was pretty sure his ribs creaked. “I love you, too,” was whispered against Gibbs’ ear. And because that was the first time Tony had managed to say the words, even though Gibbs knew how he felt because he paid attention to the actions of the man, they got caught up in some of that stuff Jack and warned them not to do.

– – – –

Tony and Jack had, oddly, exchanged gifts of sweaters, plus Tony had given Jack a really good bottle of bourbon and a beer of the month thing, while Jack had given Tony some movies he was really excited about. His dad had finally finished the birdhouse he’d been working on and gifted it to Gibbs.

Now Gibbs was facing a small stack of presents from a clearly nervous Tony. “Want to tell me which one has you in knots and we’ll get it over with?”

“The big one,” Tony admitted.

Gibbs opened it and found a photo album, the inside of which was filled with all the pictures of Shannon and Kelly he had loose in a box in the bedroom closet. “Tony,” he breathed.

“I don’t know if I should have or not,” Tony said in a rush, “but I didn’t want you to feel you had to keep them put away. You can put their pictures on the walls, every wall, and I’d get it.”

He ran his hand down one of the pages of pictures, memories accompanying each photo. In part he was just used to keeping Shannon and Kelly close to his heart, but he’d tried sharing them with his wives in the past and it had made them feel threatened. It wasn’t the sole reason he hid them away, but it had a lot to do with why he had first started. But maybe it was time to let the memories breathe. He knew Shannon would want him to be happy again, and would be pleased for him. And she’d definitely like Tony.

“Thank you,” he finally managed.

“It’s okay?” Tony asked a little tentatively.

He nodded even as he closed the album. “It’s not easy, but it’s good.” He gave Tony a quick kiss and tucked the photo album next to him to look at later when he had a few minutes to himself.

Hoping the rest of Tony’s gifts weren’t so fraught with emotion, he reached for the next package. He laughed when he got it open. It was his own Kindle.

“I figure this is my only chance to get mine back,” Tony said teasingly.

Gibbs wasn’t a fan of technology, but he had to admit, he’d become addicted to the reader-thing. It had taken him a bit to try books, and not just use it to read his newspaper, but he was happy enough now to use it for whatever he could. Tony hunting down his reader and stealing it back from Gibbs was a fairly common occurrence.

He poked Tony in the side for exposing his new reading habits to his father, then reached for his last gift. Inside the long box, he found several rolled up sheets of heavy paper tied with a black ribbon. When he got it unfurled, he found sheet music, which struck him as odd. It took him a minute to realize it was sheet music written by Tony. In the bottom right corner it said, “for L.J. Gibbs.”

“What?” he looked at Tony, astonished.

“I wrote something for you. I’ll play it the next time we’re at my place.” Tony fidgeted a little, and Gibbs knew that music was an intensely private part of Tony’s life.

The last time they’d been to Tony’s apartment, he’d persuaded Tony to play for him. He’d known about Tony’s piano, but had never actually heard him play it. There weren’t many things in life that Gibbs could say took his breath away, but Tony at the piano was one of them. Aside from just being skilled, it was emotional and seemed to be a look at the heart of the man he loved.

He realized he was just staring because Tony was starting to look unnerved. Finally, he managed to get out, “Maybe you can play it for me once we get your piano here.”

Tony relaxed and smiled faintly. “And when would that be?”

“As soon as I can arrange it,” Gibbs responded immediately. He would easily admit he wanted Tony’s piano in the house. He was fully aware that Tony didn’t share that side of himself with many people, and Gibbs enjoyed that Tony shared it with him so readily.

“You old softie,” Tony teased.

Gibbs pulled Tony into a kiss that lasted until Jack cleared his throat loudly. “Thank you, Tony.” It wasn’t just the music, it was also taking a chance on them after Gibbs had pushed him away for so long, for staying when his life experiences told him to go, and for being exactly what Gibbs needed. He wasn’t great with words, but he could see from Tony’s expression that Tony understood what he wasn’t saying.

Jack broke the heavy moment by handing them a small box that contained a crystal Christmas ornament featuring a couple penguins with the year etched on the back. “You boys both need new memories for the holidays, so a little something to remember this first Christmas by.”

For all that something horrible had brought them together and a lot of bad memories surrounded the event, Tony had survived, they were together, and life was moving on better than it had been before. He knew there were still problems to be dealt with, and unresolved emotions that needed some outlet, but he knew that the two of them would be okay.

Tony came back from hanging the ornament on the tree and cuddled up to Gibbs, wrapping his arms around Gibbs’ waist and smiling faintly as he looked at the lit tree.

Gibbs kissed Tony’s head, right where he’d had the skull fracture, and felt immense gratitude. It wasn’t something he knew how to express, but he felt it just the same.

The End

50 comments

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  1. Picking up Ellen

    I don’t read NCIS very often but when I do it is almost always written by you and you always blow everyone else out of the water!

  2. cheryl

    Yeah! Thank you so much for writing that was great!

  3. Chris

    xoxoxoxoxoxoxoxo. I am always blown away with your writings. Thanks for sharing your talent.

  4. Kris

    Wow. That was amazing. Thank you.

  5. chimera01

    That was lovely. Thanks so much for giving an honest response to Dead Air–and to Abby’s selfishness. And the love story? Perfection!

  6. merrygal

    Loved it… hope this means you’re feeling better. Hope you start the new year in better health.

  7. free4913

    I love this story! But, then I love all your stories! Thank you for sharing them with us!

  8. Edie

    This was so great! I adore stories based on that episode, and this one was beautiful. I love the way the reveal went down, with Faber there on Tony’s side and most of all Gibbs’s reaction. Hell, Gibbs throughout this whole story was awesome. I wish I could read more of him.
    It was also suuuuuper satisfying personally to see Abby’s reaction and Gibbs’s loss of faith in her. I don’t know why (because Abby can be an awesome character, right?), but there’s something viscerally pleasing to me about stories when she’s a little brat and finally there are consequences.
    Anyway, I was extremely happy to see the link to this story in my inbox this morning. Thanks for making my day better!

  9. pfyre

    I love this. As much as I despise how TPTB and the NCIS writers stable put the turning off the audio feed as a ‘joke’ – and how they had not a clue over the controversy that they’d cause – I love well written stories that deal with the incident. There was no excuse – none what so ever – on McGee or David’s part for what they did and whether or not Tony was injured [or not injured as we got on the episode] there is no excuse and they needed to pay the consequences. Honestly, while can see McGee blindly following Ziva’s example and quickly coming to realize the error they’d committed – I can also see Ziva too entitled, too oblivious, too smug to understand just how badly she’d screwed up.

    Thank you for this. It is a little balm on my feelings after learning that Michael is leaving the show. It still hurts but it’s nice to know that Gibbs/DiNozzo will live on in fanfic. Thank you.

  10. ladyholder

    That was so lovely to read.

    Thank you for a satisfying end to that episode. It’s one of the many reasons I loathe those two.

    Well done.

    ~L

  11. bindingdiva

    It was a really nice surprise to find the notification for this in my inbox, As always you write Gibbs and Tony with such panache and love. I adore stories based on this episode and here you’ve written one of the best. You are a rockstar! 😀

  12. qkidmom

    Wow, wow, wow. I can’t wait to read your next one.

  13. Karen Moonstar

    I loved the last seen. The whole story was great. I love your take on Tony in every story you have written. Thank you so much for sharing this with us.

  14. Pattie

    Wonderful Story!!!!!

  15. chermisc

    I was very happy to find this in my mailbox today. Thinking about this episode always ticks me off and I thoroughly enjoy fics that fix it and smack down David and McGee. Thank you!

  16. lilz54

    Wow! Love this from beginning to end! Thank you for sharing!

  17. chrisking2005

    *flailing merrily*

    That was awesome!

    *fangirling shamelessly*

  18. AlisonK

    I always feel slightly guilty when I read Dead Air fics because I didn’t really spot the ghastly implications when I saw the episode. In my defence I was probably knitting or something at the same time, but still it took fan fic to point out to me the problems and, as I say, I do feel bad about that. Now however, fixes for it are one of my favourite themes and this one is extremely enjoyable.

    Thank you for sharing!

  19. Katie

    Wonderful! Love how you write tony. Thank you for sharing this.

  20. Michelle

    This episode has always bothered me, and i love how you’ve dealt with it here. Leaving an agent without backup is so dangerous, and even without injury should have been dealt with. However the likelihood of it blowing up in their faces was always there. i can also really see Abby behaving the way you have written her here. It was funny to see Palmer know to bring Gibbs four coffees. I was proud of Gibbs for sticking out Tony’s hostility and desire for isolation and bringing him home to a revamped (and re-ramped) house and then ending his Silence.

    Wonderfully written, so very powerful, and very much appreciated. A perfect Secret Santa gift for a special somebody, and thank you for sharing it with us!

  21. Debi C

    This is beautiful, both the writing and the sentiment. I always thought that the David/McGee transgression was covered over too much. This Gibbs is much more likely, even if he and Tony didn’t have feelings for each other. Gibbs does not suffer fools lightly.

  22. Liz Hart

    Thank you! Always looking out for your writings, this is beautiful.
    Looking forward to your edited project from Rough Trade, had me hooked right away. Happy New Year!!

  23. leilsilver

    OMG. Love this and Love you so much for sharing this!! 😀 <3 <3 <3 Thank you!! This was awesome!

  24. Zinniaraine

    This was great! Thank you for posting.

  25. V

    Wow. Exactly what I wish the episode had been.

  26. jesco0307

    I’ve already commented on this over on AO3, so I’m not going to repeat all of it over here. Still, as I’m a rambler you’ll get some more words from me. Sorry ;).

    Even before the names were revealed I thought (and wished :)) it was your fic. It just felt like it was. Why I wished for it? Well, I’ve read (and bad me, haven’t yet commented enough on them, but it’s in my new years resolutions to do so) and loved all your NCIS related stories. You often hint on the issues between Tony and the team but not necessarily evolve a confrontation or solution (for obvious reasons, so this is not me “demanding” it for those). Especially the crossover with Hawaii 5-0 had me longing after one and I was wondering how you’d handle it in the NCIS verse. And girl, did you deliver. I’ve said it on AO3, this is most definitely one of my favorite Dead Air tags. I love that it’s written from Gibbs’ POV, because although I love Tony, there’s no doubt that he’d feel betrayed and would lose his trust in his team mates completely, Gibbs’ reaction is the one that is the most important imo. How harsh will his reaction be (because let’s face it, he can’t allow that kind of behavior or he should retire right away because there’s no excuse at all), mostly when it comes to how will he handle Abby and Ziva, his “daughters”. And there’s the reason why I love this fic. For once, there’s no hesitation from Gibbs, there are no seconds thoughts, no guilty feelings about letting them down in any way. You’ve shown in Emergence (Ziva) and The Journey Home (Abby) that you don’t approve of their behavior, but this was the first time we’re not in an AU verse so it’s more “real”. And than you add Vance and it’s pretty much perfection. Because again Gibbs doesn’t hesitate or compromise. There is no excuse. There. Is. No. Excuse.

    Well, I think I’ve rambled enough. Thank you for writing an amazing fic and sharing it with us.

  27. Rona Yarrow

    Oooohhh, clicked on your page just to check if there was anything new and what did I find … a whole new Gibbs/DiNozzo story. Thoroughly enjoyed this fic, thank you so much for sharing your talent.

  28. Meggplant

    Oh, yay!! I’m so glad to see a new story from you, and for a scenario that I always love to see – The rest of the team getting their comeuppance for doing that to Tony (even with a bit of Tony!whump to make it even more serious). Thank you so much for posting, and I – as always – look forward to more! xx

  29. angelcat70

    A fic worthy of Anthony Dominic DiNozzo Jr. Magnificent Jilly in every way. You gave a believable resolution to an episode that has pissed me off for years LOL. Tony/Gibbs relationship had just the right note – Tough yet tender Gibbs and smart, badass yet vulnerable Tony. Everybody in character and believable. Michael Weatherly leaving the series at the end of this season has bummed me out and I can only hope the writers give Tony a worthy and fitting send off….but if they don’t – (which they probably won’t because they are idiots – they’ll probably bring back she who will not be named and have them ride off into the sunset together, Arrgggg I don’t want to even think about it…….the horror LOL ). Thank god I have your wonderful stories to fill the void. Thank You!

  30. MidnightRosie

    Awesome!!! That was sooo good. And I loved that Gibbs was all about the justice for Tony.

  31. Elbee

    I am soo glad I ran across a link to this on Twitter. I just recently started using it and was so pleasantly surprised to find you there. Of course I followed so I know when you post updates! I adore your stories and think you’re a gifted writer. The way you blend xovers is especially compelling and believable. I can’t tell you how amazing I thought this story was. I *loved* how you handled so many of the things I found reprehensible in Dead Air that were ignored on the show. Thank you for another wonderful offering!

  32. christella

    Loved this, sad in places but really wonderful bits too.
    Thank you and happy new year

  33. chaoscelt

    That like everything else you write was amazing. The emotion between Gibbs and his team, and Gibbs and Tony were breathtaking. I truly adored this. Thank you for sharing this and everything you write.

  34. hexe

    First Gibbs/diNozzo Story I enjoyed in quite a while!!! Thank you so much, I thought I had grown tired of this fandom.

  35. starkindler76

    I read this when it was anon, and I loved it then. Was even better upon re-read. Awesome job, hon.

  36. btenbrinck

    Can’t get over how perfect this story is.
    So I’ll just say I absolutely loved it and leave it at that.
    Thank you for sharing!

  37. wolfmistress0

    I just love your Tibbs stories. I always get a warm tinglely feeling every time I read one. Thank you so much for sharing.

  38. ewanwild

    I’ve read this fic twice in the past two months and I will continue to read it again and again. You deal with the breach of procedure and breakage of trust honestly and powerfully. Thank you for your beautiful words and talent.

  39. zunni

    Loved this. So satisfying.

  40. theblackrose16

    I have to say that with each story I fall more and more in love with your writing. I love this. Thank you so much for sharing.

    1. Jilly James

      Thank you!

  41. Indygo Dusk

    Aww, yay for a happy ending! I enjoyed the angst in this too. Thanks!

  42. greywolfthewanderer

    om nom nom, this is fucking *awesome*!! TPTB screwed up that whole story on the show, this is how it really should have gone. w00t!!

  43. Yto

    ducky is totally my favourite. he kicks gibbs’ ass like a boss and you can’t even get mad at him. love him. their friendship is awesome. thank you for writing.

  44. Terry Kay

    What everybody else said. Yeah, that almost covers how good this is. Thank you!

  45. AlexiCyn

    I swear to Thor. I love this more each and every time I read it! Lovely, lovely piece, Jilly. 🙂

  46. A_Boleyn

    Stunning story. I especially enjoyed the Gibbs POV.

  47. iamqueenkk

    You made me like Gibbs/tony!!! Gibbs pulling his head out of his ass is awesome, also this case was always a huge deal that was totally ignored in canon – a wonderful treatment of the possible outcome.

  48. naelany

    *happy sigh* I absolutely adore how Gibbs is so 100% fierce in his protection of Tony here. Love it.

  49. Kelly

    I don’t know how many times I’ve read this story now, but I have to let you know its absolutely amazing and one of my favorites.

  1. Cover Art for Restoration by Jilly James | Lilith Silver

    […] Links to the Fic are: jillyjames.com, […]

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