Tony never would have called himself a workaholic, he reserved that term for Gibbs. Of course that was before Kate was killed. When Gibbs said that Tony did his best work at night, he hadnít been joking. It was a little known fact, that Tony was a chronic insomniac. Heíd wake in the middle of the night and know that he wouldnít be able to go back to sleep, so work had become the obvious alternative. He was blissfully unaware that Gibbs knew about his nocturnal habits.
The week that Kate was shot was one of the worst weeks of his life. Heíd just returned to work after his brush with Yersinia Pestis, otherwise known as Pneumonic Plague. He still felt miserable, but being away from work was driving him insane with nothing to do but play computer games all day and feel sorry for himself. His appetite had not returned and he was well aware that heíd lost weight. Of course, being told he looked like crap by his boss hadnít helped his self-esteem any.
Heíd only just stepped into the office when they had the call to a new case. Then heíd fallen down a hill and nearly been blown up by a car bomb, which had resulted in a poking and prodding session by Ducky. He appreciated Gibbs looking out for him, telling him to lie down, but all he really wanted was for things to be back to normal.
They ended up working late, and ordering in Chinese food, but Tony hadnít wanted any. Gibbs seemed to think that ordering someone to do something was the way to get things to happen. Tony guessed that ordering him not to die had actually worked back when he was in the isolation unit so Gibbs wasnít totally wrong there. But this time ordering Tony to eat didnít help, some things just wouldnít respond to Gibbs orders, he could only pick at a few noodles before he returned the box of take out to McGee.
Then Gibbs had come back with the news that Ari had tried to kill him. As soon as Tony had heard that Ari was out to get Gibbs heíd been worried and theyíd all ended up spending the night in the office, which did nothing for his insomnia. Gibbs had spent the night typing god knows what and that had been enough to make sure all Tony did was snooze on and off. He was tired and feeling every ache the next day. Any physical exertion reminded him that his lungs still werenít up to full health yet.
The rest of the day just became a blur of following leads and then attacking the terrorists at the warehouse. And suddenly Kate was shot in the head and blood covered Tonyís face. Blood was in his eyes and mouth and Kateís life was pouring out from the back of her head. Both he and Gibbs were too stunned to move for a second before Gibbs scanned the building opposite, gun in hand to locate the shooter. Tony heard him utter one word "Ari" before he ran from the roof of the warehouse, barely even making contact with the stairs as he ran. Tony was half a step behind him, knowing intimately the force that was driving Gibbs. If they did their jobs and didnít think, didnít stop, then they wouldnít have to face up to what had just happened.
"McGee!" shouted Gibbs, as he barrelled out the door of the warehouse. "Any movement from the building opposite?"
"No, boss," replied McGee, standing up from his hiding place.
Gibbs continued on towards the building opposite where the shot had come from.
"Donít go up to the roof until we get back," said Tony as he ran along in Gibbsí wake. He didnít want McGee to stumble upon Kateís body without due warning. "Weíre going after Ari," he added in explanation.
Gibbs wrenched the door of the building open and took the stairs two at a time. Tony was completely out of breath by this point and he lent against the door to regain his composure for a couple of seconds before he too ran up the stairs. He found Gibbs, his gun in its holster, on the roof looking at the only piece of evidence Ari had left to even suggest that he had been there, a single brass shell casing. Tony holstered his own weapon and watched in silence as Gibbs solemnly bagged the shell casing, pocketed it and then lent against the parapet, looking across to the warehouse roof. Tony sagged against the entrance to the roof.
"God damn him!" shouted Gibbs, unexpectedly, hitting his open palm on the parapet. "God damn him to hell," he added more quietly.
"Heís long gone, boss," said Tony, quietly.
"I can see that, Dinozzo!" shouted Gibbs, angrily. Then he sighed, his head drooping.
"I donít understand. Why Kate?" asked Tony, his voice still little more than a whisper.
"Because he could," replied Gibbs. "Heís telling me that he can do what he likes, take who he likes from me. Go home and get cleaned up Tony."
"Yes, boss," said Tony, with no enthusiasm. He didnít have the strength to argue. He knew that Gibbs would be going back to the office to call Kateís parents and deal with all the paper work that a dead agent created. For the moment his boss needed some time alone and Tony was happy to give him the few moments that he needed. Tony turned and headed back down the stairs where he found McGee waiting for them.
"What happened?" asked McGee, taking in Tonyís blood splattered features. "Whereís Kate?"
He couldnít think of any way to break the news gently to the young agent so he just told him the facts. "Tim, Kateís dead. Ari shot her," said Tony.
McGee just looked at Tony blankly for a long moment, as if unable to take in the news. Then he stuttered out his realisation of what Tony had said. "Thatís why you didnít want me to go up to the roof before you got back."
Tony nodded. "Iím going to call this in. Get Ducky out to deal with the terroristsí bodies." He knew he was ignoring Gibbs orders but he didnít care. McGee followed him back to the van, not really knowing what else to do. Tony found a bottle of water in the back the van and used that to get the worst of the blood off his face. Of course the bottle of water just reminded him of Kate, lying dead up on the roof. He kept waiting for it to hit him. Kate was dead and so far heíd barely felt anything. He was just emotionally numb from head to toe.
He made the necessary calls and waited for another NCIS team and Ducky to show up. Gibbs was still up on the roof and showed no signs of coming down yet. Tony took out the camera and began to document the scene. It was something that needed to be done and something to keep him busy. McGee picked up his sketch pad and began to make the necessary crime scene drawings.
Gibbs emerged a few minutes later, his cell phone glued to his ear, shouting at whoever was on the other end. He was in complete Captain Ahab mode and ordering a full scale search for Ari, FBI be damned. Tony knew that on this occasion Fornell would agree with Gibbs in any case. Airports and ports were being alerted, and the local police were told to be on the look out. By the end of the day every law enforcement agency in the country would have Ariís picture and instructions to apprehend him on suspicion of terrorism and murder. This time Gibbs was not going to let Ari escape.
Ducky arrived on the scene to find everyone treating the warehouse like any other crime scene. Tony had told him over the phone about Kate so he knew what to expect. He walked into the warehouse to see Tony taking pictures of dead terrorists, McGee sketching and Gibbs taking notes on a pad.
"Youíre all to stop what youíre doing and go home," said Ducky.
"Weíre processing a scene, Ducky," said Gibbs.
"No, youíre all in shock and you need to leave. None of you should be working this scene. Special Agent Camarata is quite capable of taking over," said Ducky. Special Agent Camarata entered the warehouse with her team.
"Special Agent Gibbs, Director Morrow sends his regards. My team and I will be taking over this crime scene as of now," said Camarata.
McGee wordlessly handed his sketch pad to one of Camarataís team and exited the warehouse. Tony acted as if he hadnít heard and continued to take pictures. Ducky went over to the tall agent and gently took the camera from his hands, which Tony now realised were shaking.
"Come on Tony," said Gibbs, as he headed towards the exit. Tony followed silently, head bowed. Ducky had a quick word with Special Agent Camarata before he too followed Gibbs.
"Mr Palmer will drive you back," said Ducky, firmly.
"I can drive, Ducky," said Gibbs.
"No you canít, Jethro," said Ducky. His voice had quiet authority behind it that refused argument. "You may be a hardened Marine but one of your agents was just shot in front of you, youíre not safe to drive. That goes for you too, Tony. I want you all to go home and get some rest. Iím telling you that as your friend as well as a doctor."
Ducky loaded them all into the van and then Palmer had driven them back to NCIS headquarters. Gibbs sent McGee home and tried to send Tony home too, but Tony refused. He got a clean set of clothes from the trunk of his car, showered and changed so that at least he could feel slightly more human. Then he sat down at his desk, opposite the now empty desk that had once belonged to Kate Todd, and began to work on the leads that they had for Ari.
For the next week Tony worked non-stop. He ate at work, he slept at work and he worked hard to catch Ari seven days a week. He made a pretence of going home, but mostly it was just to pick up a change of clothes and take a shower. Gibbs worked late, but at least he never stayed past ten pm. Tony knew that if he waited until after ten heíd have the office to himself and he could put in a full nightís work.
He still wasnít eating properly if at all, picking at any food that was put in front of him. McGee had taken it upon himself to make sure that Dinozzo got something to eat at lunch time, even if he only sat and looked at what heíd brought him. He was tired, but he knew he couldnít sleep properly until they had Ari behind bars. If Gibbs was Captain Ahab then he was Ishmael, dragged along on a whale hunt and now so caught up that he couldnít let it go.
It was suggested that all of them take some leave but none of them did, by the time they came back Ariís trail would be cold. They didnít find Ari that week or the next and before they knew it a month had gone by since Kate had been killed.
Gibbs arrived in the office as usual at 8am to find Tony already at work, which had become a regular occurrence. Tony coughed quietly, while he typed and Gibbs wondered if the agent was coming down with a cold. Gibbs was beginning to worry about Tony, heíd refused any counselling, saying heíd work through his grief in his own way and didnít need a shrink to tell him how. Gibbs was wondering if letting Tony off with that had been such a good idea now. He should have ordered Tony to go, no matter what he said, but at the time he hadnít wanted to push it. Gibbs himself knew better than to bottle emotions like grief up inside and heíd made his own, slightly unconventional, arrangements to talk to someone about it. Heíd seen enough deaths of comrades in arms to know how the hurt could poison the blood and soul of a person if left to fester.
Tony had been far too quiet lately, a fact that in times past Gibbs would have been pleased about, but now it just reinforced the aching void that was Kateís empty desk. They would eventually have to get someone in to replace Kate, they were already spread too thin, but for the moment Gibbs needed the time to let what remained of his team heal. At least he was hoping that was what this time would give them.
Tonyís personality had always been larger than life, but now it was like he was putting on a show for them. Heíd smile in all the right places, make the obvious joke and occasional sexist comment, but it wasnít the real Tony. The real Tony had retreated somewhere and was refusing to come out until things stopped causing him pain. Gibbs could see what was happening, knew that Tony wasnít coping well, but he really had no idea how to deal with it, these sorts of situation were not his forte.
"Morning, boss," said McGee. Gibbs gave him a nod in answer, before taking a sip of his usual morning coffee. Tony so far hadnít acknowledged his presence and probably wouldnít emerge from whatever he was working on unless he needed Gibbs or McGeeís input.
Gibbs opened his email and deleted the usual flood of spam that somehow made it through the NCIS filters. Then he dealt with the urgent queries that couldnít wait before he moved on to the latest report on the whereabouts of Ari. There had been other cases since Kateís death but Ari still took precedence over anything else that he was working on. Gibbs knew in his heart that the trail had grown stone cold, but he refused to give up until Director Morrow ordered him to.
Later that morning Abby called Gibbs down to her lab. Ducky was waiting for him there too, which suggested a plot on their part.
"Abby was reviewing the security tapes of the office," said Ducky. "She found something rather worrying."
"This is 2am just over two weeks ago," Abby said and pulled up a digital feed of the security tape. It clearly showed Tony working at his desk. "He didnít go home until six that morning and then he was back in for eight."
"Like I said before, he does his best work at night," said Gibbs.
"Every night?" asked Abby. She pulled up fourteen little square pictures of security footage that all showed Tony working late.
"He hasnít slept in his bed for nearly a month now," said Ducky. "And it isnít just that he works late, he works weekends as well. The only time he goes home is when you do, but heís always back an hour or so later. Itís not healthy, Jethro. Especially itís not healthy for Tony, heís still recovering from a near fatal illness."
Gibbs looked at the pictures on the screen of Tony working and then asleep at his desk. "I hadnít realised."
"None of us had," said Ducky.
"I should have noticed," said Gibbs and he strode out of the lab, a dark mood following him.
Tony arrived at work that night to find someone waiting for him. Gibbs sat in his chair.
"Hi Boss," said Tony, surprised. "I thought youíd gone home."
"I thought you had too. This canít go on, Dinozzo," replied Gibbs.
"What canít, Boss?"
"Donít act dumb with me, Tony. I know what youíre trying to do and it wonít work. Been there done that."
"Sorry, Boss, I donít understand," said Tony. He put his hand to his mouth and coughed a couple of times.
"Abby told me. Youíve been working every night since Kate was killed."
"Abby?" asked Tony, slightly bewildered.
"Security camera footage, Dinozzo," said Gibbs pointing at the camera that was trained on the office. "Running yourself into the ground wonít catch Ari any quicker and it wonít bring Kate back."
"No, but it does mean that I donít have to think about her," said Tony, angrily. "Besides I learnt from the best." The accusation in Tonyís eyes was obvious. He would have continued but he needed to cough, this cold was beginning to annoy him.
"I go home at night," said Gibbs, more gently than Tony expected.
"Uh uh, youíre not giving me that line. You go home but Ari is still your great white whale and youíre still Captain Ahab. Itís been over three weeks. Weíre not finding him, Gibbs. Heís gone." There heíd said it, what neither of them would admit. He dropped his backpack beside his desk and crossed his arms across his chest.
"Iím not on a vendetta, itís my job to find Ari until Director Morrow orders us otherwise."
"Then why isnít Fornell handling this? He was their rogue double agent."
"Because Fornell couldnít find his ass with both hands. He was too stupid to take my advice not to marry my second wife. Why would you think heíd even stand a chance of finding Ari? The FBI isnít getting within ten feet of this case."
Tony coughed and suddenly he found he wasnít feeling so good. He felt sweat prickly coldly on his skin, but he knew he wasnít too hot, too cold if anything. He leant on the edge of the desk, hoping that Gibbs wouldnít notice that it was because he needed it to hold himself up.
"I know when youíre lying Gibbs. Iíve worked with you too long not to know that. You want this case because youíre dying for an opportunity to put a bullet through Ariís head just like he did to Kate. Well Iíve got news for you Gibbs, youíre going to have to get in line."
"Donít get me wrong, I hate Ari as much as you do, but this isnít the way to get even."
"Iíll deal with this in my own way. I donít need advice from anyone, least of all you," said Tony, using his hand to emphasise his point but his grip on the edge of the table slipped. The room suddenly swirled around him and he couldnít keep his balance. He fell heavily on his side and realised that his cold was a lot worse than heíd thought it had been.
"Dinozzo!" said Gibbs, alarmed and was out of Tonyís chair and kneeling by the younger agent in less than a second.
"Guess I did overdo things," said Tony, as he squeezed his eyes shut and tried to persuade the room to fall back into some semblance of stability. He felt Gibbs feel his neck for a pulse. Tony coughed and realised that this all felt very familiar to him. Breathing was getting hard and his chest ached. He really wished heíd just decided to stay home tonight, one night away from the search wouldnít have hurt, but then he reminded himself that wasnít the only reason he didnít want to be at home.
Gibbs noticed the pale colour of Tonyís skin and the way he shivered.
"Thatís it, Iím taking you to the ER," said Gibbs, pulling Tony to his feet and stepping under his arm to support him.
"Itís just a cold," protested Tony.
"The hell it is," said Gibbs. "You should have taken that extra week, I should have made you take that extra week."
"Not your fault I get bored easily," said Tony, attempting to crack a smile and instead breaking into another coughing fit.
Gibbs dragged Tony out of the office and to the passenger seat of his car. He bundled him into the seat and strapped him in, before taking off at lightning speed for the hospital.
"Tony, donít you dare fall asleep on me," said Gibbs, realising that Tony was unusually quiet.
"No, Boss," replied Tony, tiredly. "Hard to fall asleep when youíre driving."
Usually that would have earned him a slap on the back of the head but today Gibbs just gave a half laugh and concentrated on the road. Luckily there was almost no traffic on the road so it didnít take them long to get to the ER. Despite his crack about Gibbsí driving, Tony was unconscious by the time they got there. Gibbs found a couple of medics to take Tony inside and then went to round up a doctor, there was no way Tony was going to have to wait to be treated if Gibbs had anything to do about it.
Gibbs had thought that his worst nightmare had come true when Tony opened the envelope that contained the Y. Pestis. He couldnít think of anything worse at that moment than a terrorist attack in his own office, taking down one of his own. Heíd refused to allow the thought that Tony might die to enter his head, Gibbs was too stubborn for that and so was Tony. Although when heíd first seen Tony in the isolation room looking so near death, heíd had to stop for a second to collect his thoughts. But heíd reminded himself that the Y. Pestis was dead and Tony was strong. He could fight off this disease and win, with the right prompting. Having the doctor get in his way had returned him to his usual belligerent self very quickly.
The idea of bio terrorism scared Gibbs to his very core. It was something that he was unable to fight by conventional means, he had to rely on doctors and fate, neither of which he really trusted. His training, instincts, brainpower and a gun were what he trusted. Except heíd been proved wrong on that score, when one of his own agents had been shot standing beside him. His training should have got them all off the roof far quicker, and he should have been prepared for Ari to pull something like that, if heíd been using his brain. He instincts should have told him to kill Ari with his gun the first time they met.
Now he sat beside a hospital bed watching Tony fighting off a second pneumonia infection. An oxygen tube with a nasal canula gave him the extra oxygen that he needed while his lungs were filled with fluid. He had been coughing even in his sleep. After Tony had been initially admitted, theyíd made him comfortable, taken one look at his medical history and put in a call to Dr Pitt who had arrived a few moments later. At first heíd been perplexed by Tonyís relapse until Gibbs told him about the long hours that Tony had been working and the cold. Dr Pitt explained that Tonyís immune system was too weakened to put up with that sort of abuse and deal with a cold at the same time. The cold had very predictably turned into pneumonia in Tonyís weakened body.
Gibbsí first instinct was to be angry at Tony for being so stupid as to allow himself to get that run down, but he knew he was more to blame. He hadnít been able to protect Tony from the plague or Ariís poisonous influence either. The terrorist was destroying his team and he wasnít even here any longer. He wondered if this had been part of Ariís scheme when he shot Caitlin or if this was just an added bonus. He wondered if Ari was watching this all from somewhere and laughing at their expense, at the trouble heíd caused.
He sat by Tonyís bed until the light of dawn crept in through the window of the hospital room. He checked that Tony was still sleeping soundly and then went to find somewhere to use his cell phone so that he could call Ducky and let him know what had happened. Ducky would let everyone else know who needed to and would understand that Gibbs would be staying at the hospital for the moment. He knew that none of Tonyís family would be coming to keep him company and he didnít want Tony to wake up alone.
Ducky was concerned to hear that Tony had collapsed in the office and agreed to let everyone know what had happened. He also told Gibbs that he would be stopping by the hospital later to bring him clean clothes and coffee which Gibbs appreciated, despite his protests that Ducky didnít need to bother. Finally he checked when visiting hours were because they both knew that Abby and McGee would want to visit and although Gibbsí badge had got him into Tonyís room, he doubted the hospital staff would allow more than one permanent resident.
Gibbs went back to Tonyís room to find him tangled in the depths of a nightmare, moving uneasily. Gibbs reflected that Tony looked even worse now than he had when Gibbs had brought him in. Gibbs was unsure how to deal with this. Tony had been given enough sedatives to knock out an elephant so waking him was not an option. He did the only thing he knew how to do.
"Dinozzo, listen to me, youíre going to be fine. Do you hear me?" It wasnít much but it worked and Tony settled down after that. An hour later Ducky arrived with clothes and coffee for Gibbs. He picked up Tonyís chart from the end of his bed and read the statistics on blood pressure and other medical mysteries that Gibbs hadnít been able to understand.
"He will be fine, Jethro," said Ducky, giving Gibbs a long look.
"This is all my fault, Ducky. I didnít even notice how bad he looked. Iíve been so preoccupied with finding Ari that I completely missed the fact that one of my agents was suffering from Post Traumatic Stress and running himself ragged in the process."
"Tonyís old enough to know when to ask for help," pointed out Ducky.
"It was my responsibility. I should have made him take that final week of sick leave. I should have ordered him to go to see a shrink. The worst thing is that heís just been following my lead. I know Iím a workaholic, but at least I know where to draw the line."
"Do you Jethro?"
"Contrary to popular opinion I do have a life outside NCIS," snapped back Gibbs.
"Your boat and the lovely Angela are not a life, theyíre a distraction," said Ducky. "They let you forget about the job for a few hours."
"Yeah, well Dinozzo hasnít even got that," said Gibbs.
"Then we must do something about that. You mentioned that you had your own therapist who you go to in situations like this. Would she be able to help Tony?"
"How did you know it was a woman?" asked Gibbs.
"With you, itís always a woman, Jethro," said Ducky.
"I donít know. Itís not an official arrangement that we have, sheís just doing me a favour. I donít know if sheíd want to help out another screwed up NCIS agent."
"Why donít you ask her? She seems to have kept you on the straight and narrow," said Ducky.
"I missed all this, Ducky," said Gibbs indicating Tonyís sleeping form. "Iím not sure that says much about my mental state."
"Weíre all only human," said Ducky. "He was doing his best to make it seem as if everything was normal. Kateís death has been hard on everyone but you two particularly. You watched her die and you couldnít do anything to prevent it happening."
"I canít lose another agent, Ducky," said Gibbs.
"Pneumonia is serious, but we caught it in time and heís in the best place to be looked after. But I get the feeling you werenít talking about his physical health. This vendetta that you and Tony have developed against Ari is incredibly damaging to both of you. Itís worse now youíre feeding off each otherís need for revenge."
"Itís not revenge. Itís justice for Kate."
"It adds up to the same thing; an obsession that you canít sustain. The pneumonia may not kill Tony this time but if you donít stop this then heíll never be the Tony we knew ever again. Heíll die as surely as if Ari had shot him too."
"I can do something about that right now," said Gibbs, taking out his phone. "Stay with Tony for a few minutes, I have a call to make."
When Tony awoke he was certain that he wasnít at home, however it took him a few moments to remember and identify where he was. The smell of antiseptic gave it away, as did the hiss of oxygen and prick of an IV needle in his arm. He opened his eyes slowly, acclimatising to the light as he did so and found Gibbs staring back at him.
"Erm, hey boss," said Tony, cautiously. Heíd been injured in the line of duty before and Gibbs had never seen fit to sit beside his hospital bed before now. Visit, yes, but they were always rapid as if he couldnít wait to leave. Tony had the distinct impression that Gibbs hated hospitals.
"Glad you could join me, Dinozzo," said Gibbs, his sarcastic tone tinged with happiness that Tony was finally awake and lucid.
"Am I in trouble?" asked Tony. His breathing was rough and more shallow than it should have been. He had dark circles under his eyes and looked tired.
"Yes," said Gibbs. "But not as much as you might be. When youíre out of here weíre going to have a talk about your working hours and a few other things. For the moment, your only concern is to get well."
Tony coughed and couldnít answer for a moment. "So you can kill me?"
"No, Dinozzo. I need you alive. And while you were lying there snoring away I came to a few conclusions."
"And they were?"
"Youíre too valuable to lose and Ariís not worth what itís costing us."
"I handed the case off to the FBI," said Gibbs.
Tony thought that either Gibbs was joking or he hadnít heard him right. "You gave our case to Fornell?"
"Yeah. Weíre too close to this. Ari knows us and how we play the game, itís time for some fresh perspectives."
"Did you do this because of me?"
"Partly. You were right about this becoming an obsession. For all our sakes, I needed to let this go."
"But we were doing this for Kate," said Tony.
"Kate wouldnít have wanted you to end up in the hospital because of her," said Gibbs. "And neither did I."
"You canít do this to me, Gibbs," said Tony.
"Itís not up for debate, Dinozzo," said Gibbs. "The FBI have agreed to keep us in the loop but thatís it."
Tony sighed and stared up at the ceiling. "Itís a mistake, Gibbs. Itís like weíre giving up."
"Weíre not giving up," said Gibbs.
"It feels like it," murmured Tony, feeling suddenly very tired.
"Tony, look at me," said Gibbs. He knew Tony was on the verge of falling asleep again and he needed to get this through to him. Tony turned his head and met Gibbsí eyes. There was an intensity there that he hadnít seen before. "Iím not losing another agent to Ari."
"Understood, boss," said Tony, in barely more than a whisper.
It was five days before the antibiotics cleared Tonyís lungs and he began to feel more like himself. The hospital was reluctant to discharge Tony, they wanted to keep him in for observation in case his previous illness caused complications. After he caused trouble by chasing the nurses and playing around they relented and gave him the papers to sign. He asked the nurse to call him a taxi, but when he emerged from the hospital Gibbs was waiting for him. He wasnít that surprised, of course Gibbs would have got the nurse to tell him when Tony was being discharged.
"You know I am capable of looking out for myself," said Tony.
"Shut up and get in the car," said Gibbs, which wasnít exactly the reaction that Tony had expected.
"You going to drive me home and tuck me up in bed?" asked Tony, not paying attention to his instincts which screamed at him not to bait Gibbs.
"No," said Gibbs.
"Okay, so weíre not going back to my flat, weíre going in the wrong direction. So where are we going, boss?"
"Has anyone ever told you that you talk too much," said Gibbs.
"All the time, itís part of my charm," said Tony.
Gibbs just grunted at that and Tony decided to cut his losses and keep quiet. Heíd find out where they were going soon enough.
They drove into the suburbs and parked up outside an unassuming house, complete with white picket fence.
"Boss?" asked Tony as he got out of the car.
"Youíll see," said Gibbs.
Gibbs rang the bell and they waited.
"I donít think anyoneís home, boss," said Tony.
"Patience, Dinozzo," said Gibbs.
There was the sound of movement from inside the house and a tall, dark haired woman eventually opened the door. Tony noticed the cane that the woman leaned heavily on and realised why it had taken her so long to open the door. She wasnít old, middle aged Tony thought, so the cane had to be for another reason.
"Come in, Jethro," said the woman with a smile. "I guess this must be Tony."
"Yeah, it is," said Gibbs, with resignation.
The woman headed back into the house and led them through to a sparsely decorated lounge.
"You want coffee?" asked Gibbs, continuing on towards where Tony assumed the kitchen had to be located. It was obvious that this wasnít Gibbsí first visit here.
"No, but Iím sure that you do," said the woman.
"Boss, arenít you going to introduce us?"
"Sure, Gabrielle, Tony Dinozzo. Tony, Gabrielle Briggs. Iíll let Gabrielle tell you about herself."
"Take a seat Tony, I donít bite," said Gabrielle. Tony sat down carefully on the couch, Gabrielle taking an armchair.
"So are you going to tell me why Iím here?" asked Tony.
"Jethro said that you needed someone to talk to," said Gabrielle.
"Oh no, youíre a shrink!" said Tony getting to his feet and beginning to pace.
"No, Iím not. At least not anymore. Iím just someone that Jethro knows he can talk to. Weíve been friends for a long time. I wonít judge you by anything that you tell me, Tony, and I wonít tell anyone what you say."
"I told him that I wasnít going to do this," said Tony. "Iíll deal with my grief in my own way."
"From what Jethro tells me, youíre not dealing with it at all."
"And what would he know?"
"More than you realise. His agents are important to him. I had him at my door nearly everyday for a week when you opened that envelope of white powder. Donít tell him I told you that. He likes to pretend heís made of rock but he isnít, he breaks just like the rest of us."
"So what are you? His girlfriend?" asked Tony. "You donít have red hair."
Gabrielle laughed. "No, I donít have red hair and Iím not his girlfriend. Thatís not our relationship."
"So what is your relationship?" Tony thumped down on the couch again.
"Iím his friend and occasionally Iím his psychiatrist, on an informal basis."
"I canít see Gibbs willingly seeing a shrink," said Tony.
"He didnít," said Gabrielle.
"So how did you meet him?" asked Tony.
"She saved my life," said a voice from the doorway. Tony turned around to see Gibbs standing there with two steaming cups of coffee. He deposited one in front of Tony and kept the other for himself.
"Youíre exaggerating, Jethro," said Gabrielle.
"Stopped me dying from loss of blood, probably saved my leg too," said Gibbs.
"You were in Iraq?" asked Tony.
"Kuwait," said Gabrielle. "I was a medical corpsman."
"The guy in front of me stepped on a landmine. I got a leg full of shrapnel, he lost his," said Gibbs. "We were under fire but Gabrielle still got to me and stopped the bleeding. I woke up in the hospital after they operated and she was still there."
Tony was shocked. Gibbs never talked about his time in Iraq and he never talked about being wounded. Everyone knew that Gibbs had a knee injury that still caused him trouble, but, as far as he knew, Gibbs had never told anyone how he got it.
"I was only doing my job," said Gabrielle. "Youíre too stubborn to let being shot slow you down anyway."
"You got that right," said Tony.
"So what do you think?" asked Gibbs, changing the subject. "You going to be able to do something with him?"
"I should think so," said Gabrielle, eyeing up Tony.
"Excuse me, Iím here. Donít I get a say in this?" asked Tony.
"No," said Gibbs. "Iíll come back and pick you up in an hour. Donít give Gabrielle any trouble."
"No boss," replied Tony, cowed into submission.
Gibbs downed the remainder of his coffee, gave Gabrielle a nod and left.
"That was very touching, that story about you saving Gibbsí life. Is it true?" asked Tony.
"As far as it goes," said Gabrielle. "Jethro doesnít like to let people know just how sick he was but when we got him back to the field hospital heíd lost a lot of blood and it looked like he might lose the leg too. They were short on nurses so I scrubbed up and helped out. They nearly lost him on the table but he was too stubborn to give in. Even afterwards they werenít sure how much mobility heíd have. Itís not my specialty, but muscles and blood vessels were badly damaged, and the knee cap was broken. Jethro wouldnít accept it to begin with. Heíd push himself too hard and then get depressed when his body wouldnít obey him. They tried to get him to see a counsellor but he refused, much like you did, saying he didnít need any help."
"Heís a stubborn guy," said Tony.
"Stubborn, and unwilling to admit heís only human."
"But he must have talked to you eventually," said Tony.
"Yes, he did. It turned out I was just as stubborn as he was. I visited him every day I could until he gave in. I guess because he felt he owed me a debt, I was able to get him to open up where no one else could. Heís paid me back ten fold since. Which is how you ended up on my doorstep."
"You said youíre not a shrink, anymore," said Tony.
"After my success with Jethro I thought Iíd try my hand at counselling, so I got a transfer and training and changed my specialty. Unfortunately I realised that front line counselling for Jethro Gibbs is not the same as sitting in an office all day listening to soldiers gripe about being lonely. I transferred back to the front line."
"Which was how you were injured?"
"Yes, that was years later though. I got a bullet through my right hip joint. Itís mostly metal now." Gabrielle paused. "You know youíre almost as good at this as Gibbs is. Youíll talk about anything other than yourself."
"He must be rubbing off on me," said Tony.
"Tell me why youíve been working so hard lately that you ended up in hospital," said Gabrielle.
"I didnít put myself in the hospital. My immune system was weakened by the plague and so when I got a cold I couldnít fight it off and it turned into pneumonia."
"But your immune system wouldnít have been so weak if you hadnít been over stressed and over worked. I know that you wanted to catch the man who murdered Kate, but why didnít you want to go home?"
"Well I guess I didnít want to leave the office because if I kept working I had something to keep me occupied," said Tony.
"Occupied, so that you didnít have to think about what happened?"
"Yeah, Kateís dead. I saw it happen right in front of me. Itís a hard image to get out of your head, watching your friend and colleague be shot in the head."
"Do you dream about it?"
"Every night," said Tony. "Without fail. Even when I fall asleep at my desk."
"So youíre also avoiding sleep so that you donít have to dream?"
"Yeah, stupid isnít it?"
"Not at all. Itís an expected reaction after a traumatic experience," said Gabrielle.
Tony was quiet for a long moment. "I really miss Kate."
Gibbs came to pick Tony up an hour later, to find him sitting quietly on the sofa, empty coffee mug on the table in front of him. Gibbs didnít ask how it had gone, he just got Tony into the car and drove him home.
"Iím coming back next week," said Tony, unexpectedly.
"Good," said Gibbs. It was the first time heíd felt hope in weeks.
It was 4am. Tony was sleeping soundly in his own bed after a full dayís work. Heíd only been back a few days and Gibbs was doing an impressive mother hen routine, much to Tonyís embarrassment and secret amusement. McGee was loving every minute, Tony could just see it. Tomorrow was Friday and he was going for his weekly session with Gabrielle. Heíd also agreed that heíd come over on Saturday and mow her lawn, as a thank you for all her help. Gabrielle was almost as proud as Gibbs when it came to accepting help, but her hip gave her a lot of trouble and the grass was getting long, so Tony volunteered his services.
He vaguely registered his cell phone ringing and it became too persistent for him to ignore any longer. He reached over to the side of the bed, grabbed the offending item, flipped it open and put it to his ear.
"Dinozzo," he said sleepily.
"They got him," said Gibbs unmistakeable voice.
Suddenly Tony was wide awake. "They got Ari?"
"He resisted arrest and was shot while trying to escape," said Gibbs.
"Is he dead?"
"Heís lying on Duckyís slab right now," said Gibbs.
Tony didnít know how to react to this news. To be happy seemed wrong but he couldnít be sad that the man whoíd murdered his partner was dead. He guessed it was another part of this that heíd have to work through. "Anything else, boss?"
"Thatís it. See you in the morning." There was a click which signalled Gibbs had hung up. Tony flicked his phone shut.
"It is morning, you bastard," he muttered as he pulled the covers around him and fell into his first night of un-dream-interrupted sleep for a long time.