sick…pain…

He opened his mouth to ask what was happening, what was going on, but all that came out was a weird sounding moan.

"DiNozzo!" He knew on some level of consciousness it was Gibbs, but he sounded funny, far away, too tiny to be real. He quit trying to figure it out and opened his eyes. Patches of light splashed oddly in the dark. A bright beam cut through the black, illuminating dancing dust motes, swirling, turning.

He swallowed and turned his head away. The world heaved violently, then rocked from side to side in a sickening parody of an amusement park ride. He groaned again, groped blindly and held onto the solid doorframe, hoping to ground himself.

Gibbs called out to him again, saying something, instructions, maybe questions; he didn't know and couldn't answer.

Something hit him in the foot, setting up a vibration that traveled straight to his head – it hurt so bad he was surprised it didn't make a 'ding' sound when it reached the top. But it brought him back to the here and now; he remembered everything. He started talking, tried to explain things. He understood, he might have done the same thing himself if he'd been locked up like that for months. Can't be too sure who the good guys are at first, nobody would be. He didn't know how much of that he'd said aloud, but he could still hear Gibbs, yelling something, the cadence making it clear he was running as he did. Another sudden blow to his foot made it impossible to say anything else. He heard a terrible screeching noise and as soon as he realized it was her, he understood that her logic centers had been shot straight to hell somewhere along the way and that he may had just pushed her crazy button. He pulled his feet up towards his body so she couldn't keep kicking him, and went for his weapon, just in case she had a wedding cake knife or something.

He'd screwed up again, damn it, and Gibbs was going to rip him a new one for it, but he was thinking now, now, thank God, everything was under control, she couldn't reach him anymore – but his holster was empty. Hadn't he put it away before he called Gibbs? His heart stopped, breath froze. He groped the floor around himself.

"Looking for something?" the crazy voice asked mockingly. He didn't have to look up. Didn't need to. But he looked anyway, and there was his gun, and there was his death, right there in her eyes. She'd empty it into him, all but the last bullet, that one was for herself. He had to die because he'd been the messenger, not the rescuer, not the good guy after all.

She pointed the gun at him with hands that were steady as his own at target practice. He gasped in a shaky breath and found his voice again, pushing past the sickening throbbing in his head. "He wanted me to give you a message. Put the gun down and I'll tell you." It was funny, Gibbs wasn't there, but he was. He knew, could feel his boss, could feel the sudden shift in his attention as he listened through the phone and absorbed what Tony had just told him by talking to Swain. He heard him shushing Todd and McGee, going now for the silent approach. He kept talking, and started hitching himself toward the safety of the hallway, trying to get around the corner where she could no longer reach him. "He loved you. He wanted you to know that."

The first bullet pinged into the concrete less than four inches from his face before ricocheting off into the darkness, and he recoiled from it. "You don't know him," she screamed. "I know him. He's coming back for me. He is! I did everything I was supposed to do!" He lunged for the flashlight and grabbed it, swinging the beam around straight into her face as he flung himself backward in an awkward sort of scrambling, rolling crabwalk, fear giving some power to sluggish limbs.

It seemed like there were ten of her, each firing straight at him. He didn't feel a thing, and he kept moving, and when he was safely out of range he slumped, panting, ears ringing from the noise of the gunfire but still able to hear her screaming at him.

And then the rest of the team was there; shouting at him and her and someone grabbed him under his arm and dragged him a little further down the hall. His whole body was buzzing and tingling. It was freaky as hell. And then all of the sudden he staring up at McGee. He tried to catch his eye but McGee was apparently intent on ripping his clothes off of him. "Hey, hey, probie, slow down, not on a first date," he said, irritated by his wobbly voice, trying to lighten the mood, but then he saw part of his shirt where it now laid across his arm. It was a beautiful red color, but he hadn't put on a red shirt that morning, because he wasn't a red shirt guy in a Star Trek episode who was fixing to get it. He swallowed and felt his head pound in terrible punishment for moving like he had, felt his chest laboring harder to rise and fall under the pressure McGee was now putting on it.

Gibbs materialized, put his hand on Tony's forehead and talked to McGee. Tony winced because even the slight pressure from Gibbs was making his head hurt worse, but neither of them noticed. He didn't listen to their conversation; he was starting a slow slide right on out of there. But then Gibbs pushed just a bit harder and with a jolt his nerve endings caught up to his brain and he realized Gibbs wasn't putting his hand on him to be nice and supportive; he felt the sting where concrete chips or bullet fragments must have torn open his skin. His chest burned from where a bullet had plowed across it. But what made him start to groan and gasp for breath and dig and drag his left heel across the floor, pumping his leg up and down like he was riding a bicycle, was the stabbing, fiery pain right above his right hip. Somehow a bullet must have bounced up off the floor and got him. He writhed, trying to get at it with his hand.

"Easy," McGee said, "lie still. We got you."

He tried to talk, to tell them, but all that came out now was a strangled sound of pain. Gibbs cocked his head to the side and frowned as he swiftly reassessed his agent. He grabbed Tony's hand and stared at the fresh blood and followed it down to the floor to discover the spreading puddle on the floor that had been covered up by Tony's body until a few moments ago. "Did you check his back?" he asked McGee curtly.

McGee shook his head. Gibbs' eyes narrowed for a split second. "We need to check now. Forget his chest, that's not that serious. We need to know what's hurting him like this."

McGee protested. "It's just his chest, I think."

"It's not." The words were flat and sure.

Tony felt Gibbs fumble at his belt, unfastening the buckle and yanking out the knife he kept there. Any other time he could have laughed at the look of surprise on McGee's face when the vicious little blade came into view and immediately knew what he would get the probie for Christmas. So then they rolled him over, right to left. Tony tried to believe they attempted to be gentle, but he had his doubts. He felt air hit him as they pulled off his jacket and cut off his shirt, the moment of hesitation (he imagined he could see the look of grim concern they exchanged) as they located the wound and tugged his pants down a little to get more room to maneuver, and then somebody put their hand right where the pain was the most intense and leaned their weight into him. He yelled, then, and thrashed out blindly with his fists and feet, managed to grab one of them by the ankle and hung on tight.

"Goddamn," he swore and he kicked the floor hard, trying to hurt himself, trying to make something take his mind off his back. He forgot his head was throbbing, and raised it off the floor to try to see what was going on behind him and he sort of shook it to try to clear away the cobwebs and that's when he passed out.

He could hear Ducky murmuring. Wasn't sure if he was reading or just talking, but it was soothing and familiar. He imagined it must mean he was okay. Or…dead? He opened his eyes in sudden alarm and saw a ceiling and walls – not the big open bay Ducky worked in, but more like, ah, a hospital room. He drew in a relieved breath and willed his heart to stop galloping. He felt sharp, breathtaking pain from his back, but he couldn't do a thing about it. He was simply unhooked from doing anything but lying there and breathing and thinking. If he could, he would have told someone his back hurt, but he was already drifting away again.

He woke again later because a nurse who was calling him "Mr. DiNozzo," was telling him that she "needed" for him to wake up now. So he did, but once he did there really didn't seem anything all that urgent that she wanted after all. Which kind of pissed him off because he was still hurting too much to want to be awake, but too out of it to tell anyone he was. So he stuck his tongue out at her, mentally, and let himself pull the curtains shut once more.

Next time was at night. There was someone in the chair beside him, but they were breathing too slow and steady to be awake. He thought it was probably Gibbs. He didn't want him to wake up and hit him in the head for screwing up, so he just laid there and tried not to squirm. Stuff still hurt and now he was almost pulled together enough to want to do something about it. But not enough to want to wake his boss.

He laid there and thought about the day instead, about the case, about whether he should have known better than to turn his back on her. He felt his face turn red in embarrassment at what Kate would no doubt say in her profiling know-it-all way. He felt his left arm start to shake a little with some sort of muscle tremor thing and decided perhaps merely being alive right now was something to celebrate and if Kate chose to try to ruin that for him, so be it. He would shrug and say he didn't need a Stockholm Syndrome lecture to tell him what he'd known since preschool – not to turn his back on a girl. He'd always found it easier to be pointed in the same direction he was walking, but hey, he'd walk backwards the next time he found some damsel in distress that didn't know a rescue when she saw one.

Something, a movement perhaps, brought his attention back to the room. He was already propped mostly on his side, so all he had to do was look straight ahead. "Boss," he rasped in greeting.

Gibbs continued his bemused contemplation for another moment. "You're going to be fine," he finally said by way of greeting. "Concussion, few bullets got a little too close to some important stuff, but they fixed you up okay."

Tony smiled tightly. "Chicks dig scars. I can handle that."

Gibbs gave him a patient paternal smile. "Quit worrying about Kate teasing you for Swain getting you. Well. What I mean is, you might as well reconcile yourself to the prospect. She'll do a better job than me so I'll just let her handle it."

Tony grimaced. "Is she okay?" And they both knew he wasn't talking about Kate.

"Long ways from it. Don't expect a tearful apology anytime soon."

Tony found that depressing, because he wanted a neat, happy ending. He didn't like the thought that Swain didn't walk out of that room and snap her head back to where it was supposed to be. No apology was necessary, though – he really didn't want to be in the same room with her again, ever. The mere thought made him try to shift a little, to ease the discomfort. Then he found he was more than ready to find out if this shift had any gorgeous nurses who had a thing for federal agents.

Gibbs again flashed that tolerant smile, once more easily reading his thoughts, pushed the call button for him, then leaned back in his seat to wait with his agent for some pain relief.