Disclaimer - Not mine.
AN - This is a short one folks, part two up tomorrow.
The smell of antiseptic was the first thing Gibbs noticed, followed by the feel of the stiff, starched, sheets beneath him, the steady beep, beep, of the monitor at his side and then the dull nagging ache in his shoulder and down his left side that hinted at greater hurts masked by medication.
He searched his memory, trying to piece together how he had landed up here this time. He remembered a mission to break up a drugs ring, a trail which led them overseas, there was some kind of altercation. He'd been shot. But there had also been a knife, glinting in the heat. Burning, intense heat, so that it felt like his whole body was on fire, salty perspiration trickling down his face and across his lips mocking his need for cool, clear water.
He tried to swallow over a dry throat. His tongue flicking out to wet, parched, cracked, lips, need overcoming discomfort as he forced out a single word.
"He's awake again!" Abby's voice yelped. "Gibbs you're awake."
Making a supreme effort, Gibbs forced his eyes open, to see the Goth bouncing up and down at his bedside, as she celebrated.
"Its good to have you back with us again, Boss." At Abby's shoulder, McGee was smiling.
"I'll go and fetch a nurse." From the back of the room, Ziva's voice was calm and controlled but it held a hint of relief.
"Pass me that, will you Probie?"
Gibbs almost smiled as he turned his head slightly to see DiNozzo rising to his feet on his other side. It was good to know that all his team had made it through unscathed. A straw touched his parched lips and DiNozzo's voice informed him cheerfully.
"You know the drill, Boss. Take small sips."
At his words Gibbs was assaulted by a flashback of memories, lying in the burning sun, his side burning and his shoulder throbbing like the blazes. DiNozzo's hand cradled his head as he held a canteen to his lips.
"You know the drill, Boss. Take small sips."
There was a burst of gunfire in the distance. He saw McGee's worried face and Ziva's anxious expression. A hurried conversation, words passing over Gibbs head too fast for him to register. Only enough to understand that they were coming and DiNozzo's plan was suicide. He'd struggled to focus his fevered brain enough to point out its flaws. DiNozzo was a dammed good cop but, he hadn't been in combat. He didn't know how these things went down. He felt his frustration mounting, Tony wasn't listening to him.
"Damn it, DiNozzo," He rasped. "It's too risky."
"Boss," Tony looked down at him, his eyes dark and serious. "I can do this."
"No," Gibbs struggled to sit up. "Leave me. Get the Intel to the Embassy. Complete the mission. That's an order, DiNozzo."
"Gibbs," Tony had met his eyes and for a second Gbbs had thought he'd gotten through to him. But then the gunfire had sounded, closer this time, and DiNozzo had shaken his head. "Just hold on, okay?"
"DiNozzo, I gave you a direct order."
"I heard you, Boss," Tony had already been looking up and away. "They're coming."
Gibbs held his peace through all the usual medical checks. He was slightly surprised to hear that he had already been in the Hospital for three days and that this was the second time he had woken up. He barely registered the Doctor's jocular hope that he might stay in the land of the living this time. Or his team's farewells as the medical staff chased them out of the room, claiming that he needed his rest.
"Not you, DiNozzo."
The younger man squeezed Abby's hand, murmured a word to Ziva and clapped McGee, on the shoulder, before he turned back. Stepping up to the bedside he looked solicitously at Gibbs.
"You need something, Boss?"
Gibbs looked at him silently for a moment, until Tony started to squirm slightly under that intense gaze.
"Look, Boss. You don't have to thank me," He began "We both know how it is. You would have done the same for me."
Gibbs eyes narrowed and Tony frowned at the waves of anger starting to radiate off the ex-Marine's tightly controlled posture.
"You disobey a direct order, DiNozzo?" Gibbs asked quietly.
"Oh that," Tony appeared to relax as he stepped a little closer to the bed and lowered his voice conspiratorially "Look Boss, .."
"Did you or did you not disobey my direct order, DiNozzo?" Gibbs snapped, annoyed that Tony didn't appear to be taking this seriously. He side hurt, his shoulder was throbbing and he hated everything being in the Hospital. But he had never been a man to leave his people hanging. It was always better to deal with these things ASAP, before they started to fester.
"That you remember." DiNozzo muttered,
"Dammed straight I remember, DiNozzo," Gibbs snapped, "And you better start remembering. Or you can consider yourself off my team as of right now."
The younger man's eyes flashed but, he didn't speak, instead turning his head away so Gibbs could see the lines of tension along his jaw and the flush of colour in his cheeks. The ex-marine never liked disciplining DiNozzo. The kid always seemed to take his reprimands too much to heart. Still, better that, than looking at his body lying on Ducky's autopsy table.
"Start talking, DiNozzo."
Gibbs was a fair man and DiNozzo was one of the best and brightest Agents he had ever had the honour to work with. The ex-gunny realised that his memory might be a bit Swiss-cheesed by his wounds and what had obviously been a pretty bad fever. If DiNozzo had a reasonable explanation for his actions then he was ready to listen.
"Look Boss," DiNozzo still wouldn't look at him. "We got the bad guys. We all got out of there in one piece," He glanced guiltily at his Boss' injuries. "Mostly. Can't we just let this go?"
"No, Special Agent DiNozzo, we cannot just 'let this go'," Gibbs retorted sharply. "You had your orders. Your priority was to get that Intel to the Embassy. Instead, you risked your life and the lives of the rest of your team, not to mention a whole carrier full of navel personnel. You want to be the one to tell their families you risked their loved ones for the sake of a single NCIS Agent?"
"I didn't think we ever left a man behind." Tony tried to defend his actions.
"That's for Marines, DiNozzo. You are not a Marine!"
Afterwards, Gibbs would wish he had taken more time to explain what he meant by that. Marines had military back up and evac helos and special ops training that DiNozzo simply didn't have. Gibbs looked away, already regretting his choice of words, as the younger man paled, knowing DiNozzo would only hear his rebuke and not his underlying concern. Still, he was reluctant to take his words back now, better just to get this over with.
Disobedience to orders was a serious charge. If he passed this up the chain of command, DiNozzo could lose his job and his career in law enforcement would effectively be over. Gibbs didn't want to see that happen. On paper the mission was a success. No reason they couldn't keep the truth between themselves. He just needed to slap the kid down hard enough that they never had to have this conversation again.
"I'll write it up as gross insubordination," Gibbs informed him. "Consider yourself on report until further notice. You don't get to go out into the field until I say so. You don't get to touch a piece of evidence unless, I say so. If you so much as sneeze, without my permission, you're out the door, understood?"
"You're putting that in my file?" Tony blinked.
Gibbs didn't really approve of paper reprimands, complaining that they didn't do anything to teach someone how to do things better next time. He preferred to make his Agents talk through their own mistakes, to see where they had gone wrong, and then administer a swift kick in the pants or some kind of extra duty or training as necessary. In the years Tony had worked under him, he'd only made one mistake that Gibbs had deemed serious enough to write him up for it and Tony had vowed it would never happen again.
"I taught you better, DiNozzo."
He waited for Tony to say something. One of the things he most admired about DiNozzo was right from the get go, back in Baltimore, the kid had always the guts to stand his ground. Much as he admired the ex-marine, he had never been afraid to speak his mind. But although the younger man's jaw worked for a moment, indicating some inner struggle, he simply ducked his head and turned away. He was almost at the door, when he spoke, without turning.
"I'm sorry, Boss."
It was four more days before Gibbs could finally persuade the Doctors that he was fit to be released. During that time Abby had come by every day, Ziva had stopped by twice and McGee had come on the days she had missed. Ducky had visited with him first thing every morning and last thing at night, checking on Gibbs' medical progress and running him any errands he might need.
They had talked about work, what had happened to the bandits they had rounded up and in Abby's case the kick ass party she had been to the night before but, none of them had mentioned Tony and Gibbs had been too proud to ask. It wasn't like the younger man to sulk. Usually, when Gibbs metered out a dressing down, he gave as good as he got, or else he sucked it up, acknowledged that he had screwed up, and got on with the job. It also wasn't like him not to visit, on the rare occasions Gibbs had landed up in the Hospital he had always looked forward to DiNozzo dropping by.
"Most people bring grapes," He'd observed, the first time DiNozzo had fronted up to the Hospital with a hot steak sandwich, a bottle of jack and a stack of case files.
"You don't like grapes and you get bored easily."
Gibbs had shaken his head ruefully. The kid had only known him a few weeks. He wasn't used to being so easily read. But then, he had also recognised their connection, despite outward appearances, he and DiNozzo weren't so different underneath.
Not to mention, that he considered DiNozzo on of the few people in his life who he counted as a friend, family even. He missed the man's easy presence, shovelling noodles in his face as he kept up a running commentary on some game or movie or other. Or his easy laugh as they played a little one on one in the driveway, Gibbs revelling in the fact that he didn't need to hold back, knowing that the younger man's skills were sharp enough to counter even his full on tactics. He even missed the opportunity to take care of him, pressing him into service in hosing down his patio as an excuse to cook him a proper breakfast, or nudging the pale and exhausted younger man, already on the edge of nightmares, to take that extra swallow of jack, so spending the night under his roof was the only sensible option.
"Duck," He looked out the window of the elderly MD's vintage car as they drove through the streets of Washington towards his home. He still smelt of Hospital and clutched a bag of prescription medication in his hands but, he was wearing his own clothes and planning on having a hot shower and eating a decent steak dinner as soon as "You want to tell me what's eating DiNozzo?"
"Honestly, Jethro, I thought you were never going to ask," Mallard rebuked. "It's been four days."
Gibbs turned his head to look at him, a little surprised at both the words and the tone. "Am I missing something here, Duck?"
"Anthony gave strict instructions to Ziva, Timothy and Abigail that they were not to discuss the situation with you. Since, I heard about it through, shall we say, rather more unofficial channels I have been bound by various confidences not to broach it either. I was beginning to think you were entirely unmoved by the poor boy's situation."
"Duck," Gibbs sighed. He had just got out of the Hospital and he wasn't feeling his best. "Just tell me what's going on."
"I'm sorry, Jethro," Mallard shook his head. "I rather think the precise details are something that you need to recall for yourself. Suffice to say that you have accused Anthony somewhat unfairly and that he cannot defend his actions without revealing, what would be for you, some rather unpalatable truths."
"Did the fever screw me up?" Gibbs paused. He could only imagine what he might have been like, stuck in a fever induced haze. Had he misunderstood what DiNozzo was trying to achieve? But that didn't make any sense. He had given the kid the chance to defend himself. "Why the hell didn't DiNozzo just say so?"
"He refuses to talk about it at all," Ducky huffed. "And Ziva and McGee are determined to follow his lead with a loyalty that does young Anthony credit. The boy was actually something of a hero. However, it seems the lad would rather 'take his lumps' as the pugilists might say, than hurt your feelings."
Gibbs shook his head. He couldn't remember. Had he acted like a raving lunatic? Had he said something about Shannon and Kelly? He knew that there were enough skeletons in his closet for his mind to be a dangerous thing when it was given free reign. And, at the end of the day, it really didn't matter what he had done.
"I'm an idiot, Duck."
"Jethro, you were badly wounded. You had lost a lot of blood and your fever was dangerously high. You can hardly be held responsible for your actions, whatever they were. The real miracle is that you manage to control your demons in civilised company most of the time."
Gibbs shook his head impatiently. He didn't mean that. Sure he was embarrassed as hell that wounded or not, he had apparently acted like an ass and put his people in danger. But there was something far more important at stake here.
"I should have trusted DiNozzo."
As the days had passed other little snippets of memory had returned. DiNozzo's expression as he leaned over him, his eyes creased with concern, the exertion on his face, as he half carried, half towed Gibbs through the undergrowth, the bright grin as he proudly handed him thick, juicy, slices of watermelon, (where the hell had the kid found watermelon anyway?), and the grim determination on his features as he had cocked his gun and sent McGee and Ziva to their positions as they came under attack.
"Help's almost here," He had advised, his voice low and urgent. "We only have to hold then off for a few more minutes."
"That may be a few minutes too long." Ziva had warned him. "Of course, in that time, we can take several of them with us."
"That's what I like about you, Ziva," Tony had grinned. "You're always a glass half full kind of person."
"Um, Tony," McGee had started. "If we don't get out of this, I just want to say .."
"Save it, Probie," Tony had slapped him on the back. "Just think what a great chapter this is going to make in your next book. You can make me look like a hero."
He'd forgotten. How could he have forgotten? When the bandits had burst through the trees, McGee's position had been overrun and Ziva had run out of ammo, being forced to fight off her attackers hand to hand. Oblivious to the danger to himself, DiNozzo had put himself in front of the injured Marine, shielding him with his own body, as he held his position, using his bullets sparingly to buy them time and finally pulling out his blade.
"You're probably not gonna remember any of this, Boss," He had cast over his shoulder. "But if we ever get out of here, remind me to buy a bigger knife."
"Duck, can you make a detour? I need to do some shopping."