A/N: allow me to introduce you to my first NCIS fic, "Anniversary"... a little piece i wrote over the course of several late nights, meaning i can't attest to its quality, or lack there of. i won't say too much, since i don't want to give it away but i'll say now that, for the purpose of my angst-moments addiction, i've made this one a teeny bit AU, mostly to do with switching around a little where everyone was at this point in time, at the beginning of season 4... just so you know :) -- so, i don't want any complaints later, saying that i've got the facts wrong, k? ... and now, with that out of the way, on with the show - R&R and enjoy!
(p.s: this fic was written with no pairings, or hints at pairings intended, before anyone asks)
The faint sound of beeping pulled him from a restless sleep, and he cracked open one eye to stare at the clock on his night table, which read 6:00 AM. Turning off the alarm, he pulled himself slowly into a sitting position in his bed and scrubbed a hand wearily over his face in an attempt to wake himself up a little more, having only managed a few hours of broken sleep the night before.
Blinking slowly, he looked over towards his bedroom window, sighing deeply at the sight of the sun as it rose, bringing with it the absolute certainty of what day it was. It had been one year ago to the day... one whole year since it had happened, one year since a split-second had turned his world upside down, not that he would ever let it show. After all, if he didn't keep it together, there was no one else that came after him, no one else to take up his position of the go-to guy to do with this day, for all the damages it had left in its wake.
He could still remember each and every minute with horrendously crystal-clear detail, like it had happened just yesterday. He remembered how cool the day had been, how he'd been even colder considering the fact that - no matter what he'd told the others - he was still feeling drained from his bought with the plague, and had yet to gain back the weight that he'd dropped during the illness itself, and afterwards while recovering. He remembered how he'd almost not gone into work that day, considering how terrible he still felt, and how he'd been reassured that there wasn't anything happening he couldn't afford to miss. He remembered especially, after it had happened, how glad he was that he'd gone anyway. At least that way, he'd gotten to see her one last time, before...
He forcefully cut off his train of thought, and ignored every impulse in his body that told him he should ignore the world and curl back up for the rest of the day, instead getting out of bed and getting dressed, foregoing a shower or styling his hair, and simply walking out of his apartment. He couldn't even be sure he'd remembered to lock it as he got down to his car and drove off to work, his mind wandering so completely into memories, both good and bad that he didn't truly come back to himself until he was pulling into his spot in the parking garage at NCIS. Simply sitting and staring out of his windshield for a moment, trying in vain to reign in his thoughts, he finally made his way slowly into the building and through the security check, slumping up against the back of the elevator that took him up to his floor.
When at last the doors opened, it took him a moment longer to convince himself to actually step out of it, after which he forced on his game face and strode purposefully over to his desk where he dropped his bag on the floor and draped his jacket over the back of his chair. No one else was at their desks, but their things were, which he took to mean they had all come in early and were all otherwise occupied with the different assignments they'd each been given, pertaining to their latest case.
It was a relatively open and shut one - a female Navy officer had been murdered in her house, after having just met with a snitch who'd let her in on a weapons smuggling operation involving several sailors who had returned from overseas. Her body had been found less than twenty-four hours after this alleged meeting, two gunshot wounds in her chest, the body of the snitch turning up hardly an hour later in an alleyway two blocks from her house, killed in the same manner. In their rush to kill the officer before she could report on her findings, the killers had overlooked the fact that she had already emailed half of the information she'd been told to the proper naval authorities, which was where Gibbs and the team had entered the picture. Since the case had arrived on Gibbs' desk the day before, it had basically been routine cat and mouse, wherein the team worked to fill in the blanks in the murdered officer's email, interviewing all of the appropriate parties, and narrowing down the search grid for the warehouse where this deal was supposed to go down.
It had been all fine and dandy the day before, when it was a day on the job like any other, but today was different - today was when it had happened, and Tony wasn't looking forward to having to handle the grave looks, or the heavy, solemn silences that were sure to fill the space between information sharing sessions. Dealing with his own grief was bad enough, but dealing with the others' as well?
This was going to be a long-ass day.
At that moment the elevator dinged, announcing the return of Ziva, who strode purposefully back to her desk, straight-faced and entirely calm in her body language. Of course, she hadn't been there when it had happened, hadn't been near as wrapped up in the outcome of it all, so she probably didn't even realize exactly what day it was, didn't remember that it had happened only a few hours later in the day than it was right then, didn't know exactly what had been lost in that terrible incident...
"Tony, have Gibbs or McGee returned yet?" Her even-toned question caught him off guard, and he started before looking up to meet her gaze. When he didn't answer right away, she narrowed her eyes slightly, studying him intently, a concerned frown forming on her lips. Realizing he must've let the mask slip during his reverie, he quickly pushed it back on, ignoring the surprise on her face at the sudden transformation as he hurried to reply.
"Nope, not yet Zee-vah!" he said, tossing in a goofy grin for good measure. "But I'll be sure to let them know 'ya called." His performance didn't seem to convince her, for she didn't react in the slightest to his irritating pronunciation of her name, instead coming to stand beside him, leaning in what Tony recognized as her interrogation stance on the side of his desk.
"What is wrong?" He swallowed hard but kept the act firmly in place.
"Nothing's wrong, except maybe that you happen to be getting finger smudges on the only smudge-less part of my desk." She wasn't buying it, and leaned in closer into his personal space, making him want to push his chair further back, though he ignored the urge and held his ground.
"I can see when you are lying. You always have this slightly guilty look in your eyes, especially when it is about something serious, like you wish you weren't lying..." She paused briefly, letting him mull over her uncanny observation skills before continuing. "...and I can see you don't want to lie about this. You are bothered with something, and I want to know what it is." Another pause. "I ask you this as your friend, not your partner. What is troubling you?" The last part with said with an unusual note of compassion, and his stomach twisted into a knot, so strong was the urge to simply break down and tell her everything. He might've done it, too, had it not been for his desk phone ringing right then, breaking into the moment and allowing Tony to tear his eyes away from the Mossad agent's prying ones in order to reach over and answer it.
"Tony, it's me." He blinked, pulled the rest of the way out of his gloom by the urgency in the voice that came over the line.
"McGee? What's wrong?" At his words, Ziva immediately lost the hint of compassion, all business now and appearing ready to race for the car at a moment's notice.
"We got a hot lead on the warehouse where the sale's going to take place." Tony jumped to his feet, and started putting on his jacket, seeing Ziva following his cue and retrieving her own weapon and jacket from her desk from the corner of his eye.
"Warehouse AC-54, in the Buxton district off of Welsh."
"Got it," he said, scribbling down the address on the notepad in front of him. "Is Gibbs with you?"
"Yeah, he's driving." Tony winced in sympathy, but Tim hurried on. "The director phoned in our warrant a few minutes ago, but we're still about half an hour out, and back-up's about another half an hour behind us. If you and Ziva leave right now, you could meet us there." Glad for the distraction from his thoughts, as well as for the escape from nearly spilling his guts to Ziva, of all people, Tony relayed that they were on their way, and was running for the elevator the very second he'd hung up, his partner right behind him.
With impeccable timing, Tony pulled into the lot in the back of the aforementioned warehouse at the exact same moment as Gibbs steered his car in from the opposite direction, each parking five feet from the other. As soon as the cars were stopped, all four agents jumped out and retrieved their bullet proof vests from their separate trunks, grouping together and running for the back entrance when they'd deemed themselves ready to go. As they ran, Tony cast fleeting glances between McGee and Gibbs, knowing just from the steel look in Gibbs' eyes and the thin line that McGee's lips had set themselves into that the significance of the date was not lost on either one of them. And just like them, he pushed down his emotions deeper and deeper the closer they got to the building so that by the time they were discreetly forcing their way in, his every thought was focused solely on the task ahead, just like they'd been trained to do.
Once inside, they could hear the voices of at least three men, in the midst of negotiations at the center of the mostly junk-filled main room, and they used those voices to direct them into position, waiting until they were close enough to have clear shots before making their presence known.
"NCIS, hands in the air!" Gibbs' voice echoed across the near-deserted warehouse, and seemed to hang there a split second in the mounting, electrifying tension before that tension exploded outwards in the form of bullets, all of them aimed in their direction.
Without hesitation, all four went for cover while simultaneously letting loose a hail of return fire, continuing their defense once they'd settled into their positions. Over the roar of automatic weapons and what sounded like a semi-automatic handgun, they could hear voices yelling, in English mostly, and the sound of feet pounding up the wrought-iron stairs that led up to the second floor of the building... probably headed to a few convenient fire escapes, outside the line of fire. Tony and Gibbs made eye contact at the exact moment that both came to the same realization, and Gibbs turned towards the other two who'd taken cover directly across from their position.
"Cover us - we're going up to the second floor!" he shouted, and each agent nodded, both jumping up at the same time to launch a heavy cover-fire, allowing the other two to sprint off to the side and up the rickety steps that rose steeply up to the next floor. Once at the top, they quickly ducked away from the waist-level guardrail and into the maze of crates and shelves, narrowly avoiding a shower of bullets that followed after them, ricocheting off the stairs and outer shelves.
Unsure as to how many perps they might be up against, both were careful to give the other proper backup, neither straying far from the other's side as they systematically searched around each dimly lit corner, keeping their ears open for any sound that they might be able to hear, now that the gunshots were slightly more muffled. It wasn't long before they rounded a corner and quite literally ran into a man in a suit, carrying an industrial suitcase, his haircut and wide-eyed expression giving him away as one of the arms dealing sailors. He was unarmed and it took very little for Gibbs to subdue and cuff him, and leave him on his knees, Tony finding his suitcase to be filled with stacks of hundred dollar bills.
"Wow... looks like he made a pretty penny off selling weapons to the enemy," he commented with a low whistle. The gunshots stopped a second later, and Ziva and McGee could be heard ordering the gunmen onto the ground. Gibbs smirked.
"Would've made a pretty penny, DiNozzo... don't forget, we caught the guy," he said dryly, about to reach down to haul the guy back to his feet. Grinning, Tony opened his mouth to answer, but never got the chance.
The sound of two final gunshots reached Tony's ears a millisecond before he saw Gibbs jerk back from the suspect, his blood spraying Tony's face as he fell to the ground, where he lay gasping, eyes wide with shock. In the short moment it took for the gunman that shot him to realize his gun had jammed with one agent still standing, Tony was thrown viciously back one year, back onto that godforsaken rooftop. Instead of seeing Gibbs on the ground beside him, all he saw was her face, her beautiful face marred by the bullet hole in her forehead, her blood forming a morbid halo around her head. And instead of Gibbs' blood, it was hers that now stained his skin, and he swiped at it with his fingers, pulling them away to study the red with mounting horror.
A muttered curse sounded to his right, and he looked up, not seeing their other sailor - all he saw was a man with a gun, a weapon which had for the second time in only one year killed a friend, a loved one, and yet left him standing, unharmed for whatever reason. As the sailor struggled to fix the jammed mechanism, Tony felt the rage bubble up within him, and the alternating image of her face and Gibbs' was more than he could take. With a loud, echoing cry that was a harsh mixture of fury and heartbreak, he launched himself at the man, knocking the useless gun out of his hands as he attacked him for all he was worth. The sailor fought back with near-equal vigor, but Tony barely noticed the impact of his fists on his face and chest. All he saw were visions of his friends being put into body bags, their eyes dull, lifeless - nothing else mattered.
He never noticed when their fight brought them out of the maze, closer and closer to the guardrail. He faintly heard familiar voices calling to him, but ignored them, and continued to throw himself into the struggle. He never felt the guardrail pressing into his side, didn't realize they were going over it until he threw one last good punch and then suddenly there was nothing but air beneath him. He thought he might've heard three separate voices screaming his name as he fell, but that couldn't be right, could it? There were only two left - Gibbs was dead, he'd failed him, just like he'd failed her...
The sudden and vicious halt of his decent sent pain erupting through his body, the shock dragging him under a second later, his mind offering no resistance to the offer for a peaceful moment away from the devastation of his reality.
At first, he wasn't sure what had happened, or why DiNozzo suddenly looked so pale, shock and something else he couldn't place pooling in his expression. Then, as Gibbs lost his balance and fell back, the sound of the gunshots a second earlier registered fully, and he could feel the pain coming from both his wounded shoulder, and from where the second bullet had lodged in his vest, just over his ribs on his right side. His own shock kept him on the ground for a moment, which turned out to be a moment too long.
The cry that came from his agent was far worse than any of the pain he felt right then, and he forced himself to raise his head, just in time to see Tony barrel into the gunman, knocking his weapon to the ground. In all the years Tony had been working under him, Gibbs had never seen him fight as hard as he did right then, nor had he ever seen such wild look on his face. It was more than a little unsettling, seeing his normally calm and cool-headed senior field agent loose control like this, seeing him give and receive blows with such ferociousness that he was amazed both men were still standing, let alone still fighting. The sight was enough motivation for him to push himself into a sitting position, where he sat helplessly catching his breath, wishing he would get it back faster as Tony and their second perp disappeared from sight around a long line of crates piled high.
As he struggled to bring himself back to his feet, he could still hear the sound of the fight, followed soon after by the sounds of Ziva and McGee calling up to Tony. Knowing that he'd better separate them before they could beat each other to death, Gibbs ignored his throbbing side and the stabbing from the deep graze in his shoulder, and jogged off in the direction he'd seen them disappear. Soon, he came to an opening in the shelves and stopped just outside them to get a fix on his agent, the sound of a fist hitting flesh, followed by a pained grunt drawing his attention to a section of the guard rail ten feet to his right. Both men were sufficiently bruised, and yet maintained their death grips on each other's shirts, each taking a swing at the other in turn in an effort to get the upper hand without giving too much ground. Deciding it'd gone on long enough, he started forward, keeping his eyes locked on the pair even as he noticed out of the corner of his eye that Ziva and McGee were making their way towards them on the ground floor.
Looking back on it later, he would wish that he hadn't taken so long getting there, but he simply didn't see the moment coming, when DiNozzo caught the sailor under the chin with an impressive right hook, the momentum from the hit and the perp's solid grip on Tony's shirt sending both of them tipping over the guardrail, on a direct path to the ground bellow.
"TONY!" His scream as he ran to the rail they'd gone over melded with the matching ones of his two agents bellow, but he barely heard any of the noise, watching seemingly in slow motion as both men plummeted through twenty feet of empty air, their gunman landing awkwardly and breaking his neck, dying instantly, while Tony landed partially on top of him. He released a sharp cry, his body going rigid a second before he went silent and disturbingly still.
Panic reared its ugly head as all three of his teammates raced towards him at once, the two on the ground floor reaching his side mere seconds before Gibbs did. McGee had already whipped out his cell phone and was relaying the situation and directions to the warehouse in rapid-fire speech that was lost on the other two who had knelt beside the motionless man, neither feeling brave enough right then to check for a pulse as they sat staring at his pale features. Once he'd finished with the paramedics, Tim knelt on the other side of his friend and drew a long, shaking breath before reaching forward with his hand to place two fingers to the side of Tony's throat. The gazes of the other two burned into him as he took longer than either would've liked to let out a relieved sigh, looking back up to answer the unspoken question.
"He's alive. His... his pulse is weak though," he stammered, retracting his hand to clasp both of his together nervously. None of them needed to mention that probably the only reason he was still alive was because of the cushioning the other's body had provided for his head and neck... a dangerously close call, even by Tony's standards. It also went unsaid that there was still no guarantee that they couldn't still loose him...
"McGee, what's the ETA on those medics?" Gibbs demanded gruffly, swiftly covering the fear with his usual mask.
"Seven minutes, according to the dispatcher," he responded quietly, eyes not leaving Tony. Gibbs nodded, even though neither of the other two were looking up to see it. His hands wrung together briefly before he spoke again. "Do you think... maybe we should move him off the body?" Ziva jumped in then, her voice unusually subdued, her large eyes impossibly wider.
"In my experience, in the event of such trauma, it is best to move them as little as possible. So if we're going to move him, we are going to have to be extremely careful in how we do it." Gibbs was silent a moment before moving around to position himself directly behind Tony's head.
"Ziva, McGee, when I say, pull the body out and away," he said, positioning one hand to support his agent's head, the other going to support his neck. "Okay...now."
All at once he pushed gently up with his hands, just enough so that the other two could remove the body before he lowered his hands back down with as much care as he could manage. As they knelt back down, Gibbs quickly removed his jacket and draped it over Tony's middle, his eyes being drawn suddenly to the odd jutting angle of Tony's foot, as well as the lump of the protruding bone further up his calf. A quick inspection revealed his left wrist to be in much the same condition and he grimaced, quickly looking away. By the sick look on the others' faces, they had noticed the same things, and were no doubt wondering the same two things as him: what other injuries might Tony have sustained that they couldn't see, and just how fast was that ambulance going to get there?
They passed several minutes in silence, none knowing what to fill it with, before Tony emitted a soft moan, his head lolling to the side. All three leaned forward eagerly, latching on to the small sign of life and watching anxiously as he struggled back into consciousness.
"C'mon, that's it," Gibbs murmured, one hand resting lightly on the shoulder nearest to him. Tony moaned again in response, though no louder than before, as his eyes made painstaking work of opening to slits. The feel of a warm touch on his shoulder prompted him to tilt his head in that direction, and Gibbs watched as he blinked slowly, his pain-clouded eyes taking a moment to focus on him properly. "You with me DiNozzo?" For a moment he simply stared silently up at him, and when he spoke in a whisper, his words caught all of them by surprise.
"I'm dead... aren't I Boss," he stated simply, regarding him solemnly. Gibbs' mouth actually dropped open slightly, before he pushed out a response.
"And what gave you that idea?" Tony's eyes seemed to loose focus again and they slid from Gibb's face up to the warehouse ceiling, not really seeing it as he continued so quietly that the others had to strain to hear.
"This... this is becoming a nasty habit of mine... letting people get shot, and wa...walking away scot... free..." His voice had an odd wheezing to it that was making the three of them more than a little uneasy, but Gibbs couldn't let this one go.
"What're you talking about?" he demanded, watching a shudder pass through Tony's body.
"He... sh-shot you... beside me... Just like h-her. Weird... A y-year ago today Boss... isn't that ironic? B-both of you, on the same day... she would've got a kick out of that..." He shuddered again, more violently this time, but it didn't stop him as he pushed on, having more and more difficulty getting the words out. "...got b-both... of you... killed... on the same d... day... Wow... th...that's gotta b-be... some kind of a re... record." The wheezing was getting worse, an ominous gurgle joining the mix, but none of them could get past what he'd said as his words finally clicked into place in their heads, and they all realized exactly who he was talking about. Anger flared hot in Gibbs' chest and he ignored the others' shell-shocked expressions as he leaned in closer to Tony's face, his tone firm and unyielding, despite the knot that had formed in his throat.
"Now you listen to me Tony... you are not responsible for what happened to her, understand? You did nothing to cause it, and you did not get me killed. You got that, Special Agent DiNozzo?" A wheeze that might've been an attempt at a laugh passed through Tony's lips.
"You d-don't... have... to be nice... Boss... alrea... already g-got yourself into... Heaven... they can't... can't kick y-you out... now." His voice was so faint by now that if it hadn't been completely silent, apart from the distant sound of approaching sirens, they never would've heard him as he spoke again, all kidding vanishing from his expression. "D-didn't mean... for her to d-die... sh... should've... been me... I kn-know it... should've been... me..." Gibbs was about to object vehemently to the statement, but Tony cut him off with a series of body-wracking coughs as he turned his head away him, eyes squeezed tightly shut against the waves of pain the coughs and movements brought crashing down on him. When he turned back, there was a small stream of blood flowing from the corner of his mouth, trailing down his cheek to drip onto the floor, and their previous panic returned full force.
"Damnit! McGee! Where the hell are those paramedics?" he growled, shooting him a withering glare as Ziva leaned forward to shakily attempt to wipe away the blood with her sleeve.
Tony didn't even seem to be aware of her presence as Tim's mouth worked to form an answer that was not forthcoming. His face was lined with helplessness as his gaze returned to his friend, watching as his entire body became consumed by tremors and he coughed again, bringing up more blood which Ziva again gently wiped away, trying to reassure him as she did so. Tony seemed to whisper something to her then, whatever it was causing a rare chink in her usual composure as her eyes filled with unusual sadness and she responded softly to his words.
"It's all right Tony... she knows." McGee wanted to ask her what is was that he'd said, but at that moment, the sound of sirens pierced the air making the three of them flinch inadvertently, not having noticed their steady approach through their fear.
Feeling almost light-headed with relief, McGee sped off towards the entrance and quickly led the way back for the paramedics and the stretcher, stepping aside once they got back to Tony, and giving them room to work. Having already gotten all the information on what had happened from McGee's earlier call, they had all the needed supplies on hand, a neck brace being the first thing to go on. The next few minutes were a blur of movement as the two men worked, the hovering agents answering a question here or there to do with the finer details of Tony's condition, after which the medics quickly but carefully loaded Tony onto the spinal board, then onto the stretcher, once again following McGee as he led the way out. The other two ran along on either side of Tony, Ziva latching onto Tony's good hand as they went while Gibbs satisfied himself with keeping a firm grip on his shoulder, hoping to convey through the touch the words that were rolling around in his head.
You're going to make it Tony - you have to. I can't lose you too... especially not today... I can't lose you both, and not on the same damn day...
All too soon they'd reached the ambulance, and the people Tony had come to think of as family, and vice versa, were forced to let him go without them into the back of the vehicle from St. Vincent Memorial Hospital, which sped off a moment later, just as their overdue backup pulled up beside them. As the armed team unloaded from their vehicles, McGee's angry muttering could be heard only by his coworkers.
"Anyone else notice how the cavalry never shows up in time to make one damn bit of difference?" On any other day Gibbs might have smiled at such a remark, but then, he had one, now possibly two reasons to never again smile on that day, and so he ignored the question and instead got back to business.
"Ziva, McGee, where did you leave the suspects you apprehended?" he asked, still facing the approaching team.
"We handcuffed the two of them around the base of one of the support beams, near the center of the warehouse," she said, then she frowned. "Why do you ask?" Without answering her, he moved forward to address the team leader who'd jogged up beside them.
"What do we got?" he asked brusquely. Gibbs' answer was mechanical.
"Situation has been resolved - four perps inside, one dead, two detained on ground floor, one on the next floor up. Have all four transported to NCIS for processing, along with any and all evidence pertaining to the arms deal that was taking place here. Got it?" The man's eyes narrowed slightly at the prospect of being ordered to do the cleanup, but he nodded his understanding and jogged back to his men to relay their instructions. Watching him leave, Gibbs then turned back to the other two, and could see that they were just as eager to leave as he was, simply waiting for him to say the words. "Let's get to the hospital," he said in a low voice, already headed for his car as he tossed one last statement over his shoulder. "McGee, you might want to ride with Ziva."
Taking the suggestion at face value, and not wanting to even imagine driving with Gibbs right then, Tim quickly followed Ziva back to her car and managed not to cover his ears against the sound of tires squealing out of the parking lot as he jumped into the passenger seat, Ziva behind the wheel. They sped off soon after, and frankly, he was amazed right then that Ziva seemed to be taking more care in her driving than even Tony might have in these circumstances, and he chanced a glance at her face, seeing there the same expression she'd worn after Tony had whispered to her. He felt the sudden need to know what had been said, to know what words could possibly be the last that Tony would ever speak.
"Ziva... what did Tony say to you, back in the warehouse?" he asked quietly, staring intently at her profile. His eyes widened in shock at the sight of a tear rolling slowly down her cheek while her gaze remained stoically on the road in front of her, and he felt something in his chest seize as she whispered her answer.
"He said, 'Tell Katie I'm sorry'."
The faint sound of beeping pulled him once more from a restless sleep, and he cracked open one eye to stare at... a heart monitor? He blinked open his other eye, and gradually became aware of a powerful ache that seemed to encompass his entire body, under a surface layer of numbness. He groaned quietly and went to stretch as he tried to remember where he was and how he got there, but stopped as he felt the weight that was keeping his right leg and left arm immobile. He could see through somewhat blurry vision that both were cocooned in white plaster casts, the one on his arm almost up to his elbow, while the one on his leg stopped an inch below his knee, the pajama bottoms he was wearing bunching up around its thick edge.
What the hell happened to me? Car wreck maybe?
Glancing down at his chest then, he could see the edge and feel the stiffness of the heavy bandaging that covered the left side of his ribcage under the NCIS zip-up hoodie that someone had put on him, and he returned to struggling with his memory, not liking the feel of a gigantic blank in his day, especially when whatever it was had apparently landed him in the hospital somewhere.
When the events at the warehouse suddenly started playing themselves out in his mind, he almost wished he would go back to not knowing as he squeezed his eyes shut again and released another low groan.
How could he have been so stupid? Not just with how he'd reacted to Gibbs getting shot - when he'd watched him put on his bulletproof vest mere minutes ago with his own eyes - but also with what he remembered having said to the others, and lastly to Ziva, moments before he'd been loaded, barely conscious, into an ambulance. How could he have let all of that out? It was all fine and dandy if that mess had to be the main attraction in his nightmares and the days that followed afterwards, but it was never meant to be anyone's problem but his; that's what he'd told himself a year ago, and what he'd been telling himself ever since, and it had held up just fine... until today, of all days.
"About time you woke up," came the low voice to his right, and his eyes snapped back open to find Gibbs sitting beside him, regarding him with his usual calculated stare. "Still think you're dead DiNozzo?" There was a slight joking tone to his question, and Tony was more than happy to play along, offering a faint laugh that even to him sounded all too unconvincing.
"Nah. If this was Heaven, there'd be a swimsuit model in your chair, and I wouldn't be too damn tired to do anything about it."
Something in Gibbs expression shifted then, showing the moment where the joking was being pushed aside, making room for the reality of where they were and why. Not wanting to read any further into the other hinted emotions in his expression, Tony looked up at the ceiling, trying to force himself to appear relaxed, his tone coming out in a strained casualness.
"So what's the damage?" There was a long, weighted pause.
"You broke your ankle, leg and wrist," he said frankly, and Tony could almost pretend he was listing someone else's stupidity-induced injuries, rather than his own as the report continued. "The leg was pretty bad - had to put in a few pins to fix it, but your wrist and ankle were clean, non-fragmenting brakes, so they were set without a problem." Another pause, and when he continued once more, Tony could hear the undercurrent of tenseness and residual fear that made it hard for him to swallow. "It was your broken ribs that did the most damage. Apparently you fractured two on your right side, and broke three on your left badly enough that they each punctured your left lung. Lots of internal bleeding, from that, and from other blood vessels that busted on impact. The lung was crushed on the ride in, and the other one was halfway there by the end of the trip. You barely made it into surgery."
The silence that followed was filled to the bursting point with everything that hadn't been said yet, and that needed to be said still. Gibbs had seen the look on his face before he'd started fighting the gunman, and he remembered all too vividly everything Tony had said to them after he had fallen, had seen how true his agent believed all those things to be by the haunted, self-loathing glint in his glazed-over eyes. He truly believed that he was somehow to blame for the incident one year ago, that he hadn't done everything he should've, that maybe he'd somehow missed something he shouldn't have that would have warned them of what was going to happen, before it was too late. All of that aside, he was convinced that he should have taken her place, that it would have somehow been any less unjust or devastating if he'd died on the rooftop that day, instead of her... and Gibbs simply couldn't find the words he needed in order to tell him just how wrong he was.
Kate had always been on his back about expressing his true feelings, especially where Tony was concerned. She always use to tell him that he should share those feelings with Tony at one point, seeing as it was never a mystery how badly the senior field agent was always striving for his attention, be it of the positive or negative variety. She honestly believed that if only Gibbs started the openness-ball rolling, Tony might just follow suit, and "quit the whole angsty teenager, split-personality thing", as she had put it.
Gazing at Tony's closed off expression now, he wondered if that were at all true.
No time like the present to find out, he thought to himself, and cleared his throat to make sure that Tony was listening, even if he refused to make eye contact.
"I know you would probably be happy to pretend you never said what you said back at the warehouse. You and I both know that I've never been the 'share-and-care' type... hell, even Kate knew that, no matter how many times she might've tried to change it..." He smiled slightly for a second before it vanished and he sighed heavily, eyes drifting to the wall and seeing past it, to memories he spent a lot of time avoiding. "But this is one thing I can't ignore, and neither can you."
He sighed again as his thoughts settled on the moment that bullet had cut her off in mid-sentence, her blood misting across Tony's face. He remembered not paying much attention to Tony's wide-eyed shock or his ghostly white features, or to the way his hand shook as he radioed down to McGee that they would be needing back up and a coroner. He'd been too wrapped up in his own regrets to put much thought into the fact that while Tony ended up being the one to bring everyone back around from her death, no one seemed to have taken the time to return the favor, himself included.
The ex-cop had been left to his own devices, and this was where it had brought him: to a dangerous level of unjustified self-recrimination that had been allowed to grow and fester right under their noses until it very nearly ended in his death.
He wished more than anything that he could take it all back, that he could turn back the clock to the weeks following the investigation and Kate's funeral, and simply take the time to realize that Tony was not okay, and to do something about it. However, the reality was that he had lost that chance, and had to do the best he could with the opportunity that had presented itself a year later, and hope that it wasn't too little, too late.
When he spoke again, his voice held a depth of apology and open reassurance and caring that he never thought himself capable of, not since before his wife and daughter had been taken away from him.
"Tony... I want you to know that I don't care how long it takes - I'm going to pull you through this... all of us are. If I have to, I will spend every day for the rest of your life doing everything I can to convince you that her death was not your fault, and that no matter what you might think, taking her place wouldn't have solved a damn thing for anyone. Understand?" He watched silently as Tony's calm countenance crumbled and he bit his lip to keep the tears in his eyes from spilling over as he wordlessly gave a small nod. Gibbs stood from his chair and gave his shoulder a warm, supportive squeeze, letting his hand linger for a moment before he turned and walked towards the door, figuring on giving the younger man a minute to reasonably collect himself. "For now, I'm going to grab a coffee. Want one?"
"Sure, Boss, that'd be great," came the soft response, and he thought he might've caught the barest hint of the old Tony in his tone that until that day he hadn't realized was missing, the one that had been there long before Ari had shown up and taken it away. The idea made him smile to himself as he exited the room, ignoring the impressed and approving looks of his other two agents as he strode off down the hallway and they stared after him from where they'd been silently watching the scene just outside the doorway.
Inside the room, Tony's gaze slid away from the ceiling and to the small window across from him, through which he could see the sun setting on the horizon. An invisible weight that he hadn't really noticed before felt as though it had already lessened its hold on him, and as exhaustion pulled at him, and his eyes closed against the end of the day, a final whisper slipped past his lips, and into the peaceful room around him.
"Happy Anniversary Kate."