(3 days later)
From the moment Tony had regained consciousness and could open his eyes and keep them open, he had fixed Ducky with a look of such intensity that the M.E. was hard put to deny what he asked. And what he wanted was - well, he wasn't about to put words to that, so the second thing he sought was to go back to Washington. And though it meant another hospital, it was at least in a city he now considered to be home. At least for the moment.
He'd gotten used to the incessant beeping that surrounded him; almost considered it a friend. Even felt tempted to converse with it. But he didn't, mainly because one of the numerous nurses watching over him so diligently might overhear and report it. And that might put paid to his chances of being transferred this early. So when the machines were eventually switched off, the unaccustomed silence almost scared him and, ironically, kept him awake.
On his last morning, he lay back indulging in the moment, knowing that this was the last hour he would lie in this bed. Looking down at himself, he was wryly grateful they'd allowed him a gown, though he would have much preferred pyjamas. At least one of his demands had been met, though the hated Foley catheter still remained. No amount of wheedling, pleading or charm worked when it came to that. It appeared that the bullet had skimmed his right kidney and they were taking no chances on infection. Close supervision was being kept on his body's functions and that meant that every millimetre of urine was monitored as if it were liquid gold.
The sound of approaching footsteps drew him out of his introspection and he smiled as he recognised them belonging to his favourite M.E. They were accompanied by another and for a heart stopping, hesitant moment he allowed himself to hope...until the two men rounded his door and his smile of anticipation stilled. He should, he thought wryly, have known better; he knew the sound of Gibbs' footsteps.
"Come to break me out, Ducky?"
The older man smiled whilst noticing the shadow of regret in the patient's eyes as they settled on his surgeon, a small, wiry man who had worked miracles and saved the critically wounded agent. Ducky had a pretty good idea what was the cause of the shadow, but he wasn't so sure about the treatment to cure it.
"Dr. Anders seems loath to release you Anthony."
And seeing the edgy patient about to thrust himself out of his bed, he raised his hands in appeasement, continuing, "But it seems he knows well the doctor to whose care he'll be transferring you in Washington, so, yes, it's all systems go."
The journey by ambulance wasn't overly long, just under two hours in total, but by the time Tony had been settled into his new room, he was pale from exhaustion and clearly needed to sleep, but he'd heard the voices from the corridor, knew they were desperate to see him, and knew he needed to get this over with.
His new doctor had been in to check on him, two nurses had run various tests and appeared for the most part satisfied, and Ducky was now regarding him thoughtfully.
"This could wait until tomorrow, Anthony. You look quite worn out and I do believe a good night's--."
Tony smiled reassuringly, though it failed to reach his tired eyes.
"It's okay, Ducky. I want to see them as much as they do me. And anyway, I'll sleep better."
Both men knew this to be untrue, but neither would admit to it being a lie.
So calling on all his powers of persuasion, Ducky was able to arrange for Ziva, Abby and Tim to be allowed in together though, Ducky observed, the two nurses did hover on the periphery ensuring that their charge wasn't unduly stressed by all the excitement.
Only the bedrails prevented Abby from actually climbing on to the bed to lie with Tony, so she had to make do with latching on to his hand and holding it to her cheek through the rail.
He endured her gentle scolding, questioned his two team colleagues, knowing it was expected of him, on the work they were doing and answered every question on his health, all the while keenly aware that no one had raised the question of what had happened.
It was only seconds, yet it felt like a deathly silence had fallen on the proceedings and it was telling that Abby offered no explanation of her own to add to those of Ziva.
"He is busy as always."
"Yea," Tim hurried to back up the Israeli, his eyes flickering on Tony and swerving away again as if afraid Tony would be able to see through his explanation. "The Director has got him overseeing some overseas op. that's taking up a lot of his time. He's in MTAC more than the bullpen these days."
Ziva's tight smile told him more than all her words, but she still tried.
"He asked me to convey his wishes for your hasty recovery."
Both Tony and McGee corrected her in unison, but no one smiled and relief was felt by all except Abby when Ducky called time on their visit.
"You can come tomorrow when Anthony's caught up on his rest. He will be feeling much more inclined to enjoy your company after a good night's sleep, isn't that so, dear boy?"
Everyone knew that wasn't true.
"Are you aware Abby is boycotting your Caffpows, Jethro?"
Gibbs looked up from his work, sighing as he sat back in his chair and played with the pen in his hands. It was late and most of the NCIS staff had gone home long ago. The M.E. looked to be on a mission and truth be told, the former marine had been expecting this; he decided he might as well get it over and done with.
"She's made it known," he replied dryly, returning to perusing some information on a known drug dealer found dead, who it was thought had been working the naval base in DC.
"Aren't you concerned?"
"I've made sure McGee supplies her."
The older man's chin rose up in understanding as he stated, softly, "Ah, you always know how to look after your people."
The dig was all too evident and in the quiet of the bullpen Gibbs frowned as he speared the M.E. with a dark glare.
"Whatever it is you've come to say, spit it out, Ducky. You've never felt the need to beat around the bush before."
"I've never known you to ignore one of your own before."
"You might recall," and the team leader's tone had turned to frost, "that a certain agent chose to ignore not only his own team, but every protocol order in the book and went off alone."
"And he's suffered the consequences; is still suffering the consequences of his actions."
Gibbs' face seemed set in stone as he regarded his old friend.
"Ducky, DiNozzo knew what to expect when he made the choice to go it alone. He wasn't some rookie agent who didn't know better. He's a seasoned NCIS officer who opted for a certain course of action. Well, now he's going to have to face the consequences of that choice."
"He is fully aware of those consequences, Jethro. But it isn't the disciplinary session he's worried about."
"You are making sure of that."
Gibbs blinked hard, his eyes flashing dangerously and the Scot knew he was pushing his luck in continuing this discussion.
"The closest person to a real friend Anthony had before coming here asked for his help. What was the poor boy to do?"
"Come to me."
"You don't have to convince me," the older man sighed softly, "but put yourself in Anthony's position." Seeing no hint of understanding, he continued, "Are you going to visit the poor boy?"
"If you recall, I've done my visiting."
"Yes, when he was unconscious and unaware of your presence. And the fact that you've forbidden us all to mention this fact makes your absence all the worse...He thinks you've abandoned him!"
Gibbs, face impassive, met Ducky's accusing glare.
"He say that?"
"He never mentions you when he's fully cognisant. He doesn't have to. You know as well as I that when he was delirious, yours was the name he called out. The nursing staff say that when he awakes from a nightmare--."
"I get the picture, Ducky!" the former marine snapped irritably.
But the older man would not be swayed into finishing before he'd said what needed to be spoken.
"Do you, Jethro? I wonder about that. It's as plain as daylight that you are on his mind a great deal of the time, though he won't admit as much. And if I hazarded a guess, I could probably say the same thing applies to you. However, let me not digress. He needs to be concentrating on getting better, but that's not happening. And I think you're the reason why."
Folding his arms, the Scot stated, "You two are so alike... Need I remind you of a certain incident further back in your illustrious career when you chose to 'go it alone'?"
Pushing to his feet, his blue eyes icy with disapproval, Gibbs snapped, "The hell we are!"
And snatching his jacket from the back of his chair, the ex-marine pushed past the M.E. and strode towards the elevator bringing the unwelcome conversation to an abrupt end.
At a loss for words, the older man shook his head disconsolately. What was supposed to have been a little pep talk had been an exercise in abject failure.
The sanding was meant to be soothing, was meant to allow his mind and body to wind down after a trying day. The smooth, velvet warmth of the wood should have kept away the cold shiver of disquiet that rippled down his back. It didn't.
Gibbs clutched the sandpaper, applying his efforts with more force than was strictly necessary as he followed the grain of the timber with a swaying motion that he usually lost himself in. But this time his attention wandered, his eyes skimming his work bench, resting on the drawer which held the bottle. He scowled. The mood he was in he was likely to finish the bourbon and it was three quarters full. No, he wouldn't resort to that method.
He turned back to his sanding, running his hand over the stern of the boat, trying to regain some simple enjoyment from the smooth feel of the wood, trying to...the soft click of the door handle alerted him to the fact that he had a visitor. And for once he wasn't sure who it was going to be, though if he were a gambling man he'd put his money on Abby come to twist his ear.
He'd know soon enough; he knew each and every footstep of every member of his team since he became team leader. As he wondered whether or not he had the energy to deal with any other person's problems right now, his inner radar began to ring out its alarm and he stilled, his hearing acutely attuned now to the slight sounds above him - sounds that weren't quite the norm.
The throbbing pulse on his temple was testament to the turmoil of his feelings, but clamping down with a steely hold on his boiling temper, he worked at channelling the excess of energy into the sanding.
He continued the therapeutic movement, appearing deeply engrossed in the chore when his visitor descended the steps of the basement, yet he neither turned nor acknowledged the other's presence.
Tony stared morosely at Gibbs' back, well aware that the older man knew just who was behind him. As his wound began to make its own complaint, he cast a look longingly at the chair in the corner, but knew better than to use it. This whole situation sucked and he cursed himself out for thinking that coming here could make things any better.
Hah, his whole existence was screwed up; why the hell should he think that coming to Gibbs could possibly make things better? It was obvious that the man didn't want anything more to do with him. And who could blame him?
As he stood awkwardly watching the other man at work, he felt hot, burning colour rush over his neck and face, tingeing the tips of his ears, yet still Gibbs remained silent.
Feeling the irritating tickle of a cough, he tried hard to suppress it, hunching forward whilst trying hard not to pull on his wound. Gibbs would think it was put on for sure and he had no intention of -- he coughed and pain spiked through him like a knife slicing into his innards. He sucked in air then held it until the stabbing began to abate. Holding a hand to his right side, he hunched over slightly more to relieve the tension, glad that the ex gunny had his back to him right now. He'd show him no weakness. None dammit!
But if he had any hope of not ending up on this basement floor he was going to have to initiate the conversation. Quick.
Running a hand over his weary face, he stammered softly, "I...I wanted you...to know first. I'm quitting - don't want you to take the buck for what I did."
He waited to see if Gibbs would react, but the sanding continued as if he weren't there, wasn't telling his superior that his world, the life he'd made for himself, had basically ended. He swallowed, not wanting to say the next words, but knowing they had to be said. "I know I let you down, Gibbs."
"You got permission to be out of hospital, DiNozzo?" Gibbs didn't allow a hint of concern to be heard as he studiously ignored the confession that had just been made.
Grimacing, Tony struggled to answer. Gibbs always had the uncanny ability to wrong foot him. "Er...I looked for the doc, but he...er...wasn't available, so I--"
"Just get your ass back there now."
The mask Tony wore so well cracked with the heaviness of his heartache, but as he shuffled round, he looked at the stairs he had to ascend and his heart plummeted knowing the pain he would have to go through to get back up them. Sucking in a sharp breath, he locked his jaw in grim determination as he hastily swiped a hand over his face, anxious to obliterate any proof of weakness he felt stinging his eyes.
Clearing his throat, he mumbled, "Guess I'll be going - lots to do and oh so little time."
Gibbs stood immobile as he listened to the slow, laboured movements of his senior field agent make the painful journey back the way he'd come. Only when he heard his front door open and close did he move, staring down at the blood on his right hand where he had held the sandpaper so tightly that it had pierced his skin causing tiny drops of blood to blossom on his palm. He stared at it a moment, unaware the same was happening to his agent - only in more copious amounts.
Outside in the chill night air, Tony groaned wondering if things could get any worse as he realised the cab that had brought him here had gone.
Crap. His side was burning viciously and without looking under his shirt he was pretty sure his wound had reopened. Double crap. As he looked down the street and assessed the possibility of another cab coming his way, he felt his vision begin to blur. When his legs buckled yet again he didn't feel his body hit the ground.
Part 3 to follow