I'd hoped to get this chapter posted in January, but sadly real life interrupted, but it is here now. I can only promise one chapter a week (I know, it's the pits) as I still have to tweak the remainder of the chapters. Hope you like this angst-ridden story.
The impact struck him, hurtling him forward before the sound of a bullet being fired made it to his ears. And even knowing that it was going to hurt like hell when he hit the ground, he had time for one thought -
'Gibbs is going to kill me!'
- before mercifully losing consciousness.
"McGee, what are you doing?"
The young agent shot the Israeli a short, smug smile across the aisle of the bullpen before returning his attention to the task at hand on his computer.
"I'm just getting ready for when Tony gets back from his vacation. You know what he's like when he's been away."
Ziva closed her eyes in weary acknowledgement of just what was to descend on them - a senior field agent in full juvenile prank mode. It wouldn't, she thought darkly, be pretty. Maybe she too should take a stem out of McGee's book and be prepared.
Sitting at her desk, she scanned the area of Tony's desk and began to plan. Grinning slyly she had to admit that being a former Mossad agent had definite advantages...
Even with only half an eye on the grey-haired team leader, she picked up the vibes immediately as he listened on his cell phone and all thoughts of practical jokes were extinguished as she saw something on Gibbs' face that she had never seen before.
Alarm wasn't a common emotion for the dark-haired officer, but that was the closest to what she was feeling now and she was already rising to her feet at the tone of her team leader. His expression was now as closed as ever other than a cold glint of anger and in her deepest thoughts she admitted that she was glad she hadn't been the cause of that look.
Both of his agents were looking at him now, ready to move out the instant he gave the go ahead to start their next assignment.
His next words froze them.
"DiNozzo's been shot!"
He recognised the shock on their faces; it was exactly the same as what he was hiding from them as he grabbed his badge and gun, but he didn't have time to offer any form of support. They would look after each other; he knew that.
He had a quest; to find out why his senior field agent - who had told him (and wasn't he going to ream him out in front of the whole bullpen and its occupants if what he was feeling now was anything to go by?) he was going to be on a long weekend break with some frat buddies where they were to follow the age-long ritual of drinking themselves senseless whilst retelling, with even greater exaggeration, their halcyon days of bold conquest over the opposite sex - was in intensive care in Philly having been shot whilst on a joint operation with the police there.
Jenny was descending the steps from her office, her eyes glued to Gibbs as he shrugged into his jacket.
"You're booked on the 10.40 flight."
He nodded and hurried past, but her hand on his shoulder stopped him.
He frowned. He had no time for small talk and she of all people should know that.
"Are you okay, Jethro?"
"Shouldn't I be asking DiNozzo that?" he demanded tersely, his blue eyes burning holes in her.
She nodded and stepped back, allowing him to leave. Looking at the remainder of Gibbs' team, she realised that a terrible void now existed in this part of the bullpen and wondered when, if ever, it would be filled.
"What do you mean he's been shot?"
McGee winced at the terror revealed in Abby's dark eyes.
"How was he shot? How does he manage to get shot when he's at a frat reunion? Is he okay? Tell me he's okay, McGee? Does he have to stay in hospital? Where was he shot? When can we see him? We can see him, can't we?"
As the questions rolled like unravelling string from her pierced tongue, her eyes grew steadily larger and the fear grew more pronounced as tears formed in them. Clutching her hippo for comfort, the farts grew more intense as her grip tightened and she bounced from one black booted foot to the other.
Placing his gentle hands on her shoulders, Tim met her gaze with quiet intensity.
"I know as much as you, but Gibbs is on it and we'll be the first to know when he gets there."
He wasn't, not when it concerned Gibbs, but it was the only thing he could give Abby at this moment. And he'd do anything to lessen her pain, no matter that he might have to pay the price later.
Entering the ICU, Gibbs' eyes scanned the area and ignoring most of the personnel there, his dark eyes settled instinctively on the one he considered to be the most senior person.
"DiNozzo. He's an NCIS agent, brought in with a gunshot wound in the early hours of this a.m," he stated tersely.
The doctor, who on second glance looked to be no older than a high-school graduate, stopped perusing the charts he held in one hand, and gave the older man his full attention.
"And you are?"
"Special Agent Jethro Gibbs, NC---."
In his periphery he was aware of a policeman giving him careful scrutiny, but he hadn't time for that just yet. But he would get round to it.
"Sorry, only next of--."
"I'm listed as his next of kin. Where is he?"
It was the number of tubes that took the air out of his lungs, leaving him blinking as he attempted to bring his chaotic thoughts under control. He recognised the nasal cannula, heart monitor, pulse monitor and blood and saline drips, and snaking out from under the sheet that came to his waist was a catheter which he knew, without a doubt, would be the first source of complaint once his agent was conscious.
A nurse - and he was pleased to see she looked like she had been in the job a number of years - was doing some of the routine checks which took place every fifteen minutes without fail - he knew the routine when it came to ICU workings, but he didn't want the familiarity to include his team. She looked up and smiled automatically without once pausing in her check-up, all of her attention on the job in hand. Seemingly satisfied with the readings, she put away the blood pressure monitor and used the stethoscope for one final check. Then, after raising the bedrail, she gave the visitor a reassuring nod, and left him to take a seat by the bedside.
Suppressing the desire to touch Tony, the ex marine made do with carrying out a minute survey of every inch of him, from the sweat-slick hair plastered to his pale forehead, to the closed eyes with the dark circles beneath, down past the stubble covered sunken cheeks - how the hell could he have lost so much weight in such a short time? - to the heavily bandaged dressing on his right side. His gaze rested there longer as he frowned darkly at the bandage. He followed the line of his agent's naked body beneath the pristine cotton sheet, until he finally reached his covered toes.
And as he allowed reality to sink in, the sheer futility of his position stoked the fires of the fury that burned within so that his knuckles were ivory white from the tension he was applying to the bedrail.
And as he stared at his unconscious agent, he whispered desperately, "What the hell were you thinking, Tony? Just what the hell were you thinking?"
He knew enough by now to switch his cell off when he was in Tony's room, but when he needed a coffee and food he set it on silent vibration, so in the middle of the third night when lights were muted and his charge was still deeply unconscious, he was able to leave the cafeteria and walk out into the corridor of the unit and answer when Ducky made the long anticipated phone call.
After listening to the first few words, he interrupted softly, demanding impatiently, "All I want to know is, am I going to get the satisfaction of kicking his ass when he's released from here, Ducky?"
Receiving his answer, he snapped the cell shut and ignored the disapproving glare of a passing nurse as he returned to keep vigil over his young agent.
Sounds were his first sensation, an irritating beeping that disturbed and demanded that he awake when he knew, without really understanding why, that such an act was a really, really bad idea.
A piercing pain in his side made itself known in a distinctly unfriendly manner and he whimpered as it began to spike into something that forced him to move in the hope of evading any more of the bone-deep throbbing ache.
"B...Boss?" His voice, scratchy from the tubes that had earlier been forced down his throat when he'd been intubated, called out automatically for the one person he depended on more than anyone.
A different sound pushed through the fog of pain insisting to be heard, stilling his panicked struggles as he eventually recognised the soft Scottish inflection.
"Easy does it, young man. We don't want you reopening your wound, not when so many people have put in so much effort putting you back together."
He felt the cool breath of air as the single sheet covering him was lowered to his hips and he shivered; he would have liked to have pulled the sheet up to his shoulders, but he was too weak to do anything but try and force his leaden eyelids to open; they felt as if some enormous weight was tugging down, preventing him from doing the simplest of movements.
His breath hitched as a sharp spike of pain lanced through his side and he heard the monitor's beeping increase as if a conspirator with his discomfort.
"Hurts," he complained in a hoarse whisper to no one in particular.
He felt the soft touch of a warm hand on his shoulder, hushed words of comfort spoken and yet was cognisant enough to still want another's touch, no matter that it was intensely reassuring. He was unaware that medication was speeding down the tube attached to his hand, ensuring that very soon he would be pain free.
He wanted Gibbs, wanted him badly. He needed to tell him something; he knew that, but for the life of him he couldn't remember what, only that he needed him. Now.
Miserably, he felt a tear squeeze through his closed lids to trickle silently down the side of his head and disappear into his hair.
He fell asleep whispering his name on dry, parched lips.
Part 2 to follow shortly