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Chapter 12

After Gibbs had closed the door to Tony's room behind him, he stood and waited. The smashing sound didn't come unexpected to him, but it made him wince nonetheless. When he heard Tony's muffled sobs, he briefly considered going back in, but he knew that wouldn't do any good. Cursing softly, he forced himself to take a step away from the door.

As he slowly made his way out of the rehab center, Gibbs sighed and rubbed his tired eyes. He had managed to not let Tony see it, but saying those words to him had been anything but easy.

"You're a paraplegic, and you're in rehab. Deal with it." Even replaying it in his head now made him cringe.

He knew saying that to Tony had been a brutal thing to do. But it had been necessary. This was his agent's reality now and somebody making him face it had been overdue.

"Deal with it." The truth was, Tony wasn't the only one who needed to deal. They all did. Gibbs' instincts still made him hope for a miracle sometimes, which he knew was wrong and stupid. His gut told him that the last thing Tony needed, was being treated with velvet gloves. From anyone. He would have to talk to the team about that. They all still tended to tiptoeing around Tony sometimes, even if he was far from being in the fragile state he had been seven weeks ago.

Arriving at NCIS, Gibbs took the elevator to Ducky's. He found the ME bent over a dead body he was just telling about some engrossing experience he had had in the Congo twenty years ago.

"Jethro!" he exclaimed, minutes later, when he finally became aware of his friend's presence. "I'm sorry, have you been standing there for long?"

"Long enough to hear about the snails." Gibbs smirked.

"Ha, I'm afraid my new friend here has brought up one too many memories there." He put down the scalpel and took off his rubber gloves. "I didn't expect you to be back so early. I thought you would spend the majority of the day at Tony's."

"Well, turns out I didn't." Gibbs muttered.

Ducky frowned. "How is he doing?"

Gibbs shrugged. "Aside from the fact that he probably hates me right now, he's not exactly embracing rehab."

"Oh, I'm sorry to hear that.", Ducky sighed. "I was hoping the change of scene and prospect of learning how to be independent would motivate him. On the other hand, he's only been there for two days, Jethro. - Have they started working with him yet?"

"They're trying." Gibbs snorted.

"That sounds terribly like our Tony."

"Yeah." Gibbs paused. "They let him sit up today. Just 30 degrees. Because he was too damn stubborn to say early enough that he was dizzy, he almost passed out and had to throw up."

Ducky grimaced sympathetically and nodded. "Many patients who lie horizontally for such a long period experience those symptoms. Perhaps the bed was risen too rapidly?"

Gibbs shook his head. "The nurse did it gradually and kept asking him if it felt okay. DiNozzo didn't even think about opening his mouth."

It was the ME's turn to shake his head. "Tony, Tony, Tony." he muttered. "What are we gonna do with the poor boy?"

"I might have already done something." Gibbs muttered.

"The thing he hates you for right now?"

Gibbs' expression clouded. "I told him it was time he started dealing with his condition and... ah the hell, for him it probably felt like I basically told him he should start living his life as a cripple."

"Honestly, Jethro, that does sound somewhat brutal."

Gibbs rolled his eyes. "I didn't say cripple! And Ducky, I have tried it with understanding and empathy, with pep talk and patience. It's time he got a kick in his ass."

"I hope you're right, Jethro.", Mallard said thoughtfully. "Tony has indeed always needed a strong hand from time to time."

Gibbs tiredly ran a hand across his face. "I wish I could help him, Duck."

After a moment of silence, Ducky said: "Have you talked about his future?"

That made Gibbs snort. "He can't even handle the present."

Ducky cocked his head. "But how can he handle the present if he doesn't see a future?"

Gibbs raised an eyebrow. "Not bad, Dr. Mallard."

Ducky chuckled mildly. Then his gaze got stern as he eyed Gibbs thoughtfully. "I take it you still haven't talked to the Director."

Gibbs grimaced. "You know me too well."

He had been avoiding a thorough conversation with the Director ever since the shooting. Partly because he was too angry at NCIS. What had happened to Tony should never have been possible in a high-security complex and yes, he kind of blamed the Director for it. The other reason was exactly what Ducky had just hinted at: He didn't want to loose Tony as an agent, but was painfully aware of the fact that a position like the one before the shooting would not be possible for a paraplegic. And as Tony wasn't the only one who wasn't particularly good when it came to dealing with stuff, Gibbs had been avoiding the argument he was certain he and the Director would have about this.

The ME sighed. "It's none of my business, of course, but, the sooner you deal with this, the better are Tony's chances. He is one of those people who need a purpose in life. What has always been most important to him is to be important to other people. If he doesn't feel needed or appreciated anymore, he starts feeling - and acting - like and abandoned child. You should know that better than anyone, Jethro."

Gibbs smirked. Ducky never failed to impress him with his sharp eye for psychology. "All right", he grumbled. "Guess it's time for that talk with the Director."

To be continued...

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Also, I accidentally double-posted. There is no Chapter 14 yet. Sorry!