Disclaimer: NCIS belongs to CBS and Bellisario Productions.
A/N: This is entirely Alaidh's fault. This…um…intellectual exercise is the end result of a chat the other day (while we were both watching a Dark Angel episode) and flows on from some prior discussions about turning Tony into Logan and, well, here's the dialogue (repeated with permission):
Alaidh: Somebody's gotta shoot Tony in the spine
kasman: : don't even want to think about it
kasman: I'm still cackling over Abby's shotgun-shattered backbone
kasman: Do you think she'd swap it for "Tony's shotgun-shattered backbone"?
kasman: I'm soooo bad
I'd just like to add something further here. This story came completely out of the blue and is something I never intended to write, having said on several occasions that I would never dabble in NCIS fanfiction. My dear friend Alaidh, who triggered the weird thought in the first place, has been involved every step of the way, and this is a much better story as a result. Her input and assistance have been absolutely invaluable. I would like to dedicate this story to Alaidh…and hope that in future she keeps her weird ideas to herself!!! LOL!
Any part of this story that does not meet with your approval can be attributed solely to Alaidh, so please address all complaints to her.Chapter 1
"Shotgun-shattered backbone." The simple comment haunted Abby. She could still hear Tony saying the words, could still see him looking back at her casually, brow creased, then pointing a finger at the colorful duodenum on the other wall. "You need to get out more, Abby," he had added a moment later, half-grinning at her.
"Shotgun-shattered backbone." She said the words out loud, then crossed the room and hefted the framed image from its hook on the wall. She looked at it closely, tracing a finger over the undulating curve of the ruined spinal column, no longer seeing the beauty of the rich pinks, blues and oranges that formed the image of the smashed vertebra. She tucked the picture into a corner, face to the wall. Out of sight, but not out of mind.
Kate walked quickly into the bull pen, and sat at her desk, covering her face with her hands. She held the pose for a moment, before pushing the hair out of her eyes and booting up the computer. She was disheveled, her clothing stained with spots of something dark that could have been dried blood. She gazed unseeingly across at the next desk, until a voice from elsewhere in the room penetrated her consciousness. "…news?"
"What was that, McGee?" she asked, turning to face him.
"I said, is there any news?"
Kate shook her head sadly. "He's still in surgery..." Her voice faltered, almost cracking. "Gibbs is there." She shrugged eloquently.
McGee, concern etched into his face, nodded, and turned back to his screen.
Leroy Jethro Gibbs wordlessly walked into the autopsy room and lay down on one of the tables, staring up at the ceiling.
"Jethro," Ducky acknowledged, still studying the x-ray he had wedged into the frame of the light box.
"Ducky," he replied automatically, tiredly rubbing his face.
"Is he going to be all right?" Ducky finally turned away from the x-ray and peered at Gibbs' prone form.
"All right," Gibbs said ironically. "Well, if all right means 'Is he alive? Is he gonna make it?' the answer is yes...maybe…I don't know…"
Ducky nodded his understanding.
"But if all right means 'Is he gonna walk again?'…" Gibbs' voice trailed off. "Kate's at the hospital. I needed to do some stuff," he added unnecessarily.
"Tony will understand." Ducky switched off the light box and walked across to Gibbs. He gave the agent a reassuring pat on the shoulder before quietly heading for the door of the lab, unable to think of anything further to say.
"Ducky," said Gibbs. "I messed up. I missed something."
"Jethro, go home. Work on your boat. Drink some coffee. Anthony…Anthony is young and resilient. He'll get through this." Ducky paused, as if waiting for Gibbs to make a move. "Go home. Let tomorrow take care of itself."
Early Thursday morning
Gibbs snored lightly as his head lolled back against the backrest of the chair, one foot lazily draped over the opposite knee. His clothes, although clean, were badly rumpled and his hair stuck up at an impossible angle where he'd run his hands through it multiple times during the last few hours. He and Kate had been keeping an alternating vigil for nearly two days.
DiNozzo, lying on his back for the time being, caught a peripheral glimpse of a shoe. "Boss? That you?"
Gibbs was immediately awake. "Yeah, DiNozzo, it's me."
"That's good. I was hoping it wasn't Kate wearing shoes that big."
Gibbs allowed himself a small smile. Tony lapsed back into silence and, considering the agent had barely opened his eyes to speak to him in the first place, Gibbs assumed he'd fallen back into unconsciousness, as he had several times in the last few hours – waking briefly only to lapse back.
"Boss…I think I screwed up again."
"No, Tony. I screwed up. I shoulda realized he had a partner. I…wasn't watching your six well enough."
'Sure, Gibbs." Tony fell into silence again, the quiet punctuated by the background of the bips and whirrs of various monitors. "What day is it?"
Gibbs squinted at the tiny script of the day/date on his watch. "Thursday." Gibbs could almost hear the cogs ticking over in Tony's brain as the younger man licked cracked lips with a dry tongue. Gibbs automatically stood and poured water from a jug on the nightstand, carefully bending over the straw and giving it to Tony to sip. He noted that the large scrape on Tony's cheek, sustained when his head hit the curb, looked less raw than previously.
"You got anyone you want me to notify?"
Tony released the straw then shook his head and closed his eyes again.
His eyes snapped open in alarm. "No!"
"Okay. No need to freak out on me," Gibbs said, amused at the reaction and to see that Tony's eyelids were already dropping shut again.
"Boss?" The single slurred word stopped Gibbs' progress as he turned to leave.
"Did you get him?"
The single shot came out of nowhere and suddenly the scene was in slow motion – DiNozzo falling, hitting his head hard on the curb…Gibbs spinning on his heel, drawing his pistol as he turned…drawing a bead…firing…
DiNozzo smiled, eyes still closed. "Thanks, boss."
Kate looked up from her desk as Gibbs strode through the bull pen, Starbucks coffee cup in one hand, jacket slung over the opposite shoulder, hanging from his fingers down his back. He barely acknowledged her with a nod, and glared at an oblivious McGee, seated at Tony's desk for now, but passed on to his own desk without comment. He placed the coffee none too gently on the desk, hung his jacket over the back of the chair and booted up the computer, by which time the phone was already ringing. "Gibbs…five minutes."
He stood and started walking in the direction of the stairs, sweeping past Kate, who had left her desk with a file and was coming towards him. "Hey, Gibbs, where are you…"
"I need to talk to you about…"
"Later, Todd." He stepped past her brusquely, leaving her to shrug at McGee.
The director's secretary waved him through without speaking. NCIS Director Tom Morrow looked up from the papers he was reading long enough to wave Gibbs into a chair. He continued to finish the page, then looked up at Gibbs and smiled grimly. "I see you made no excuses."
"Weren't any. It was my fault."
"You're too hard on yourself."
Gibbs didn't respond, instead he concentrated on steepling his fingers, waiting for the director to get to the point. "We got our man in the end." Gibbs said with a grimace. At a cost, he thought.
"DiNozzo. Who do you want to replace him?"
"Replace him? I don't want to replace him. I want him back on the job."
The director looked at Gibbs thoughtfully. "He's not gonna be any good to you in the field."
"I don't want him in the field. There's more to this job than functioning legs. He can still use a computer, interrogate a prisoner…think…"
"You'll need another field agent."
"I can put McGee in the field."
"He's keen and he'll learn. And if he doesn't, there's plenty of others champing at the bit."
"Okay. So how long we lookin' at?"
"Six-eight months, maybe a bit more." Gibbs fudged his response – he really had no idea but figured he'd err on the side of safety.
"You got it. You gonna tell DiNozzo he still has a job?"
Gibbs just smiled in reply.
"McGee!" Gibbs called out the name as soon as he got back to his desk. "C'm here a minute."
McGee jumped, almost cowering. "Yes, sir…I mean, boss, I mean…"
Gibbs looked at him in frustration. "Just come here…please," he said more gently. Really, McGee, you're the jumpiest agent I've ever met. McGee came and stood in front of Gibbs' desk, wondering what he'd done wrong. "DiNozzo's gonna be out of action for quite some time. You interested in filling in for him?"
"No, I mean, yes…you're talking about higher duties, right?"
"Well…yes, I'm interested."
"Good, 'cause I already said you would." Gibbs turned away from the nervous young man, dismissing him with a curt wave. "Kate, you had something for me?"
Kate had followed the brief conference with interest. "Yes," she said, bringing over the file, then added sotto voce, "Is Tony gonna be back?"
Gibbs looked at her in surprise. "What makes you doubt it?"
"It's just…" She caught the steely glint in her boss's eye. "Never mind."
Gibbs could hear the giggling from the room even prior to reaching halfway down the corridor. He rolled his eyes as a uniformed figure skittered out. "Hey, come back, we're not finished!"
"I'll lose my job," the nurse replied, smoothing down her uniform then fleeing down the corridor.
He knocked perfunctorily on the door before entering. "Brought your mail," he said.
"Hey, boss," said Tony, still smiling from whatever had preceded the pretty nurse's exit from his room. He was propped on his side and had, judging by the tray on the table, recently been eating dinner. Gibbs hadn't visited for a few days as he and Kate had been on an investigation out at sea. The senior agent was pleased at the change he saw. Tony was perceptibly more alert, and had obviously made use of the shaving gear Gibbs had brought on his previous visit.
"How's things?" Tony asked, flicking through the bundle of envelopes, mostly bills, from what he could see. He awkwardly tried to put them on the nightstand, wincing as he stretched. Most of the envelopes, imperfectly balanced on the small section of corner he'd been able to reach, promptly cascaded to the floor in a waterfall of white paper. "Bad move, DiNozzo," Tony said wryly, watching them tumble.
Gibbs bent down to retrieve the pile, dumping it where the one remaining envelope teetered on the brink. He shoved a large floral arrangement back out of the way to make more room on the surface, and noticed an unfamiliar signature on the card: "All the best, Anne Marie." "Now, you got everything you need? Anything I can get you?"
Tony shook his head slowly, eyes narrowed, having noticed Gibbs reading the card. "Boss?"
"Why do you keep coming to see me? You feeling guilty over what happened? Because if that's why you're here – just don't. Okay? I don't need your pity."
Gibbs narrowed his eyes at the angry spark and wondered what had triggered it, why he seemed so upset that Gibbs had read the note attached to the flowers. He wasn't used to the normally good-natured, easy-going DiNozzo displaying any sign of temper. "DiNozzo, I'm here because I want to be. Because you're a valued member of my team. I'd do the same for any of the others."
"I am what?"
"A valued member of the team."
"Yes, Agent DiNozzo." Gibbs was slightly taken aback that DiNozzo needed the reassurance.
Tony was still unsure if he'd heard right. "I'm still a member of the team?"
"If you're asking me whether you'll have a job to come back to, the answer is yes. I've already spoken to the director about it." Gibbs blinked once. "There's still a job for you, no matter how long it takes. Besides, someone has to bring your mail. Wouldn't want the phone cut off while you're not there to use it," Gibbs grinned.
"Tony, don't sell yourself short. I don't work with fools."
Tony closed his eyes with a grimace, and took a sharp breath. "I know, boss." His brows knitted together, concentrating on some inner problem.
"Hey, DiNozzo, you okay?"
"Uh-uh. Being shot in the back is not exactly pain-free," he said, pulling a wry face.
"You want me to call a nurse."
"They'll be here with my meds soon enough," he said shortly. "Boss, think I wanna be alone for a while."
Gibbs looked at DiNozzo in concern. "Sure you're okay?"
"Yeah. Just got some thinking to do."
"Don't strain yourself."
A few days later
"Good morning, Anthony."
"Morning, Ducky." Tony blushed violently at having the NCIS medical examiner walk into his room unannounced as he was being strapped into the restrictive TLSO vest in order to be allowed to sit upright. The ME had taken to dropping in from time to time, never coinciding with the visits made by Gibbs, which had prompted Tony to surmise that they had some sort of roster running. Tony stared straight ahead in an attempt to hide his embarrassment. Ducky was a medical practitioner, but he wasn't Tony's personal physician, and it was still humiliating to be caught like that, to be showing so much weakness.
"I'm sorry, Tony. I can see you're busy. I'll come back in a few minutes." The ME's tone was gentle, understanding.
"It's okay, Ducky," Tony sighed, casting him a sidelong glance. "Sit down."
Ducky waited quietly until Tony was ready. He was sitting more upright in the bed than Ducky had yet seen him, the vest securely fastened over a plain white t-shirt. He gave Tony a moment to gather himself before speaking. "Have you thought about what we discussed the last time I was here, Anthony?"
"I don't want to talk to them," Tony said stubbornly.
"They'll have to know sooner or later."
"Look, my father cut me off years ago. He's always been convinced that I was worthless, that I would end up in the gutter – the gutter starting with Phys Ed at Ohio State and going downhill from there straight to the sewers." He reached for the trapeze above his head and pulled himself infinitesimally straighter. He felt oddly disembodied when sitting, and had found that he slipped down the bed quite quickly. "In their eyes, I'm a failure, and this…" he gestured at his motionless legs, "would just be the coffin nails, as far as it goes."
"Anthony, your mother has a right to know. You're her only child."
"My mother doesn't care for anything except bridge and her 'charitable works.' I'm not the son they wanted…would have had, Ducky, not for either of them."
"Oh, come on, Anthony. It can't be that bad."
"This just makes it worse."
Ducky looked into Tony's eyes, concern written all over his face. This was more than the Special Agent had said about his family than in the whole time he'd been employed at NCIS, and he wasn't used to seeing the normally effervescent DiNozzo so low.
"The thing is, I think it would be much better to tell your mother yourself than to have her find out by accident. I'm sure you can see that no matter how they feel about you, your parents have a right to know, and they may even surprise you."
Ducky was amazed at the pain that flickered across the younger man's face at the mention of his family. It explained a lot about his relationship with his superior in the NCIS, the continual seeking of approval, as if Jethro Gibbs were a substitute for his father. Tony, for all the wealth in his background, seemed to have missed out on the richest part of most peoples' lives – the unconditional love of his parents.
Tony clamped his eyes shut and bowed his head, a crumpled bundle of bedsheets screwed up in his hand.
"Tony," Ducky said gently, dropping back to the shorter version of his name in a moment of unaccustomed casualness, "We've managed to keep this out of the press so far, but you never know when a leak can happen. You wouldn't want them to…"
"Find out that way?" Tony finished for him quietly. "No, you're right. I've just been putting off the inevitable."
Tony took a couple of ragged breaths and gave Ducky a watery smile. "No time like the present," he said resolutely, suddenly sounding very young indeed. Ducky stood and handed him the phone that had gradually been moving to the back of the nightstand as time passed. He was amused to see Tony select the button for an outside line and key in his parents' number by rote. For someone who considered himself such a disappointment to his parents, he was able to key in the digits without hesitation, almost like he practiced calling them for just such an occasion. Ducky quietly withdrew. He shut the door behind him, hearing Tony's pleasant tenor voice say, "Hello, Amelia. Can I talk to my mother, please?"
"Nice flowers," Gibbs said walking into the room later that day. A huge arrangement of spring flowers had taken the place of the one from "Anne-Marie". "Hey, Gibbs." Tony, who had been deeply contemplating a spot on the wall, somewhere about the midpoint, turned his attention to his boss.
"Love from Mom." Gibbs couldn't help smiling, especially when he received a shrug in response. "You called your mom finally?"
"She sent me flowers." Tony shrugged again, non-committally.
"Dunno. Someone down the hall had a flower shop in their room. I ended up with some of the overflow." He reached for the trapeze and pulled himself straight.
Gibbs shrugged a response, realizing that the real reason for Tony's display of temper the previous day was that he didn't want Gibbs to know that no one had bothered to send him flowers, that despite all his flirtations and dalliances, no one really cared – there was no one close enough to him to bother sending flowers. Tony, above all else, was lonely and alone. Gibbs fished in the outside pocket of his jacket. "Here's your mail. Anything else I can do for you? Anything you need?"
"I'm touched, boss," Tony said with a grin. "You really do care."
Gibbs rolled his eyes. "I'm serious, Tony."
"I know, boss." He scratched at his chest, inserting a finger under the edge of vest where it itched. "Gees, I hate this thing. Feel like I'm in a straight jacket."
Tony pressed the call-button. He was bored and felt like having some female company, and he wouldn't be lying if he said his magazine had fallen on the floor – because it had. He had taken to calling the nurses for the slightest excuse, drawing them around like bees to an over-pollinated flower. Tony didn't look towards the door when he heard the tread of soft-soled shoes.
"Can you pick up my magazine? I've…dropped it…" He looked up and took in the appearance of the person who had entered the room. She was large – nearly six feet tall and almost as wide – and his expression immediately altered to one of dismay. "...on the floor." Oh, God, Nurse Battle-ax.
"And the time before that it was a drink of water, and the time before that…" the woman turned to him. "We're not here to be your personal slaves, nor are we here to keep you entertained, Mr. DiNozzo. Do what all the others do – get yourself addicted to some harmless soap and leave the nursing staff to look after people who really need it." Tony looked at her sourly. "Or would you rather I sent up someone from occupational therapy to teach you basket-weaving?"
"I thought you'd see it that way," she said.
Tony looked crestfallen. "But I'm bored," he sighed.
The nurse smiled at him kindly and patted his hand. "You're just going to have to get used to that. We're gonna have the pleasure of your company for quite a while. And flirting with the staff is not on the agenda, capisce?"
"Now, here's your magazine. If you drop it again today, I'm not gonna pick it up for you."
"Thank you," he said soberly, but then spoiled the effect with a boyish smile, a dimple puckering his cheek.
Author now ducks flying fruit