This is the last chapter. The story was only intended to be a one-shot, but it somehow grew. Thank you to all my reviewers and those who have put this story in the favourites. Please feel free to comment on this last chapter and let me know if what you think.
And if I feel like it, Tony's father may well pop in the occasional one-shot in the future!
Gibbs became aware of voices, muffled but annoying. He wanted them to go away, but they were insistent. They kept saying his name.
Then he heard one voice that he recognised.
"Jethro? Jethro, can you hear me?"
It was Ducky. Gibbs tried to open his eyes but the lids were lead. Was he was drugged? he thought weakly.
"That's it Jethro, I know you can hear me."
The weight on his eyelids lessened slightly and he was able to slowly open them. At first all he saw were fuzzy, blurred images and whiteness. He blinked and this time his lids opened more readily. The images coalesced and he saw Ducky looking down at him. The doctor's mouth smiled but his eyes frowned.
"Don't try to speak, just squeeze my hand if you can hear me," he directed.
Gibbs realised that Ducky's hand was loosely intertwined with his. Slowly, he managed to tighten his grip.
"Good," the doctor praised, his frown lightening a little. "You've been intubated, but we're going to remove it now. You remember what that means?"
Gibbs did, and it was no more pleasant this time than it had been the last. When the tube was out Ducky held a straw to his lips and allowed him a sip of water before moving it away.
"What...?" he rasped.
"You were shot," Ducky answered, knowing the question already.
Gibbs' chest constricted. His team, he thought, what...?
"No-one else was hurt." Again Ducky anticipated. "Well, Timothy dislocated his shoulder, but that's been taken care of and is on the mend. Tony and Ziva are unharmed."
Gibbs became aware that the doctor's fingers had moved and he was surreptitiously taking Gibbs' pulse.
"But you gave us quite a scare," he continued smoothly. "You were bleeding out, but they managed to get you to Bethesda in time to operate. You won't be leaving here in a hurry I'm afraid."
Gibbs moved his hand, trying to dislodge the doctor's grip. Ducky smiled a little and let him go, gently patting the hand as he did so. Gibbs felt his eyes close, powerless to stop himself sliding way.
"Yes," the doctor said softly, "you were very lucky my friend, very lucky indeed."
The next time Gibbs woke it was both quicker and more complete but still Ducky was there. The doctor rose from a chair and moved to the side of the bed as he saw his friend's eyes open.
"Don't try to move," he cautioned, reaching out again for the water glass.
Gibbs took a sip of water and the doctor's advice.
"Where's Tony?" he asked.
"He's checking on McGee."
"I need to know what happened."
Ducky looked over quickly towards the door. "I don't know about the mission, but there is one thing you should know," he said softly. Gibbs eyes widened. His team were safe, weren't they?
"Tell me," he demanded.
"You had to be flown here." The doctor rested a hand on Gibbs' shoulder. "No Navy flights were available, so you were flown here in Tony's father's plane."
"What?" Gibbs started, but Ducky gently pressed him back onto the bed.
"I haven't got the full story from Ziva, but..."
The door swung open and Gibbs looked over to see Tony enter the room.
The younger agent glared at the ME. "Why didn't you tell me he was awake?"
"He only just woke, Anthony," Ducky soothed. "And he's very weak."
"Am not," Gibbs protested, but his voice was embarrassingly thin.
Tony moved to stand beside Ducky. He looked his boss up and down, his eyes settling on his face. "You look a heck of a lot better than you did 24 hours ago, Boss," Tony said with a smile, "but you still look like crap."
Gibbs tried to snort, but all that came out was a feeble puff of air. "How's McGee?"
"He's fine, a bit sore, but that's why God made Vicodin."
Gibbs looked at his senior agent, trying to focus on his face, but Tony looked away.
"Tony," Gibbs spoke as firmly as he could.
"I'll go and check on Timothy," Ducky offered tactfully. "And I'll be back to see you later Jethro." And he was gone.
Tony looked at the closed door.
"Tony," Gibbs pressed quietly, "sit down."
But Tony continued standing and looked at the floor. He crossed his arms and one finger tapped convulsively on the other arm.
"Please," Gibbs said softly.
At the rare entreaty Tony stilled and looked Gibbs in the face. He drew a chair to the side of the bed and sat down.
"How did I get here?" Gibbs asked quietly.
Tony looked away, and rubbed his hand along his thigh. Gibbs waited. Tony leant forward and crossed his hands on top of the bed cover.
"I could say something about your mother and father loving each other very much..." He tried for a smile but it faltered and Gibbs' heart constricted.
"I , umm..." Tony finally looked back at him, and swallowed. "We needed a plane. Navy flight would have taken too long. I called ...," he hesitated over the correct nomenclature, "him, and he was in the air on route to Washington. He was able to come and pick us up fast. That's all."
That's all. That's all, Gibbs thought. Tony had phoned his father and asked for help. What had that cost him? How had he found the strength, the words?
Tony's eyes met Gibbs', and Tony gave a slight, almost apologetic smile. "You were dying Boss," he said softly.
Somehow Gibbs' hand found Tony's on the bed, and he squeezed it weakly. "Thank you," he rasped.
"Ahh, Boss..." Tony shook his head.
"Mean it, Tony. Can't have been easy for you."
Tony's eyes widened a little in surprise.
Gibbs squeezed again. "I know Tony," he stressed, enunciating each word carefully, "that it can't have been easy for you." He was determined to get this said and he wasn't going to let Tony brush him off.
"Making that call, asking your father for his help, that was hard. But you did it. That took real strength, Tony, real guts. I'm proud of you."
Tony sat perfectly still, his eyes fixed on Gibbs. Neither man blinked. Then Tony squeezed Gibbs hand in return and his expression melted into a slow, genuine slightly abashed smile. The first such smile, Gibbs realised, that he had seen in weeks.
Gibbs released his hand. "I need to thank your father too. Think you could call him for me?"
Tony nodded and rose from the chair. "There's someone else you need to thank though," he said. He opened the door and Gibbs heard him to call out a name.
Another man entered the room. He was about a foot shorter than Tony, a slender, youthful looking Asian man.
"Boss, this is Doctor Nicholas Wha. He kept you alive."
The doctor he rolled his eyes at the agent's words. "You kept yourself alive, Special Agent Gibbs," he said with a smile, "I just helped".
Tony slowly pulled his cell phone from his pocket. Barely conscious of the noise of the hospital around him, he replayed Gibbs' words in his head and felt them warm him. Gibbs thought he was strong, that he had guts. Gibbs was proud of him. Tony smiled as he heard the words again, and then smiled at himself for smiling. It was ridiculous, he thought, ridiculous and childish that Gibbs' words made him feel like this. But they did.
Burning inside him like a small fire was the knowledge, the absolute certainty, that whatever had happened in his past and whatever happened in the future, today he had Gibbs' respect. He could hold it tight to him, or he could carry it in front of him like a shield. It would lighten his burdens, stiffen his spine and square his shoulders. He had it, no-one could take it away from him, and he would make damned sure he didn't lose it.
He dialled his father's number.
Dominic DiNozzo hesitated outside the door to Gibbs' room and smoothed down the front of his suit coat and enjoyed the feel of soft Italian wool and cashmere under his hand.
He didn't know if Anthony would be in there. In the flurry of doctors and sirens that greeted their arrival at the airport he hadn't had a chance to speak to him and, not wanting to intrude, he had not accompanied them to the hospital. Now he stood here, wondering if his son was two feet away, knowing that there was something he wanted to tell him but having no idea how to do it.
Finally, he raised his hand and knocked on the door.
The door was opened immediately by a tall, black haired girl – no, he corrected, woman; it was the pigtails that had thrown him – with a spider web tattoo on her neck. He started a little, but did not step back.
He heard a rough voice speak. "Come on in." Looking to the bed he saw Gibbs, pale and weak, but with a small smile on his lips, and another man by his side wearing a similar smile. Dominic's reaction must have been more obvious than he thought.
The girl – woman – glared at him, but stepped back to allow him to enter.
"Agent Gibbs," he said in greeting. Then he turned. "And you must be Ms Abigail Scuito." He pronounced her name with an Italian flourish.
Now it was her turn to look surprise.
"Anthony's description of you was very .... vivid," he explained with a slight curve of his lips. "He must enjoy looking at you."
Her eyes widened, and his smile reached his eyes. She started to smile in return, but then stopped herself and tried to summon another frown. This only made Dominic smile more widely. Which made her soften again. And then frown.
Gibbs chuckled. It was like watching a tennis match in Abby's head. Dominic looked very like Tony when he smiled and however much Abby might want to hate him for his past actions, that smile triggered an almost Pavlovian response in her.
Dominic turned to look at Gibbs and raised his eyebrows, but before he could speak the other occupant of the room stepped forward and extended his hand.
"Doctor Donald Mallard," he said. "Call me Ducky."
"Ducky," Dominic acknowledged, and they shook hands. "Anthony has told me about you also."
"With slightly few adjectives, I'd imagine."
Dominic smiled in confirmation.
The doctor moved to stand beside Abby. "Come my dear, we should be leaving."
"Umm, no I..." Abby stalled.
"Now, Abigail," he insisted, taking her arm and opening the door.
"Gibbs..." she pleaded.
He mouthed the word go, and that was enough to make her acquiesce.
After they had left, Dominic turned to look at Gibbs. "Well, you look better than you did last time I saw you," he commented.
"But apparently I still look like crap." Gibbs tried to gesture to the chair but his arm barely moved. "Please, sit."
Dominic did, casually unbuttoning his suit coat and smoothing the material in what was to Gibbs a very familiar action.
"I wanted to thank you," Gibbs began, but he was cut off.
"There is no need to thank me, Agent Gibbs."
"There is a need. I would have died."
Dinozzo gave an eloquent Italian shrug. "Possibly," he conceded, "but I didn't do it for you."
"Why did you do it?" Gibbs demanded.
"Because he asked." The response was immediate and honest.
Gibbs paused. Then the corner of his mouth twitched. "Good answer," he commented softly. "How are things going?"
Dominic hesitated. He had no idea how things were going. They were still barely speaking. "We've met four times since that first meeting at NCIS," he said slowly. "On the last occasion Anthony was able to sit, rather than stand. I'm hoping that next time he may feel sufficiently relaxed to lean back in the chair. Sharing a hot beverage is, I fear, still some time away."
Gibbs looked at him and saw his disappointment. "Give him time," he counselled. "This wouldn't be easy for anyone. And Tony doesn't open up to people easily – he'll be walking on eggs with you. Getting angry won't help. I know - I've tried."
Dominic shook his head. "I'm not angry with him. I just never appreciated how... how bad it was." He sighed heavily. "I am not a patient man, Agent Gibbs. And I'm not accustomed to letting someone else run the show. Normally, I control the people around me – that's how I like it."
"So does he." Gibbs tone was affectionate, rather than critical. While Tony would generally follow orders, he always managed to put his own spin on how he did so. He remembered Tony's first weeks on the team, when he tried to get the younger agent to adopt a more conservative, structured approach. He soon learned that as well as being futile, it was counterproductive. Tony had to be allowed to be Tony. That was how he worked best, and that was how Gibbs liked him best.
Dominic looked back at the man in the bed, and recalled their previous meeting when Gibbs had stood silent and solid against the door to the interview room, his presence holding Tony in the room and his silence giving Dominic the space he needed to speak. Every time they spoken since that day Anthony had managed to mention Gibbs, as if his name was a talisman, a reminder of what he had and who he was. This man was important to his son, more important than he was or could ever be and Dominic felt a flash of envy. And then he remembered.
He drew a breath, and took a risk. "I know what happened to your family," he said softly. "I'm sorry."
Gibbs looked at him in surprise.
"I researched you," he said unapologetically. "Or to be more accurate, I paid someone else to research you." He looked Gibbs square in the face. "It must seem terribly unfair to you."
"Unfair?" Gibbs frowned.
"You were a good father, but you lost your child. I was a terrible father, but somehow mine survived. How is that fair?" The bitterness was back. "I don't deserve to have a son. I don't deserve him. But you do."
"He's not my son."
"He wishes he was."
"Do you wish he was?"
"No." Again, the answer was immediate and utterly honest.
Gibbs paused. "Another good answer," he said softly.
Dominic sighed, and shook his head.
"You're right, it isn't fair," Gibbs acknowledged, and Dominic looked up in surprise. "But I have my agent, and a friend. And you have a chance to have a son. It won't be easy – nothing worth doing ever is. But he's worth it." He moved slightly, trying to ease the ache in his back from the hard hospital mattress.
"He doesn't trust me."
"No, he doesn't," Gibbs confirmed.
"I can't blame him. I suppose the best I can hope is that one day he'll stop hating me."
"He doesn't hate you. Not now. If he did, he would never have made that first phone call."
Dominic considered this, and conceded the point with a tilt of his head. "I wonder if it is too much to hope..." he paused, "that one day Anthony and I might also be friends?"
Gibbs weighed his answer. "You'll have to wait and see." Then he smiled a little. "You may not like him. Abby says that Tony is an acquired taste."
Dominic smiled wryly. "Or he may not like me, plenty of people don't. But I don't think me not liking him will be a problem." He remembered his son's face as it had looked on the plane, the slight frown, the seriousness, the strength. And the blood splattered on his shirt.
Gibbs saw a gentle emotion move across Dominic's face and he recognised it. A longing rose inside him, and envy.
"You'll get there," he said gruffly. Then he raised himself a little from the pillow, and looked hard at the man opposite him. When he spoke his voice was deadly serious. "There is one thing I want you to remember. I said it to you when we first met, and I'm saying it again. If you hurt him again, I will kill you."
There was silence.
"You won't have to," Dominic promised.
Tony had finally completed the mountain of paperwork that the hospital demanded as a result of their unorthodox arrival. Now he wanted to see Gibbs again before going back to the office to check on Ziva and McGee's progress with their inquiries.
As he came out of the lift he saw the door to Gibbs' room open and his father stepped out. Without thinking, Tony pulled his suit coat closed and did up the centre button.
They approached each other and in unison turned into the waiting area.
"Anthony," Dominic said smoothly.
"How is he?"
Dominic paused. He had noticed before that Tony never addressed him name or by any title.
"In pain, and he seems a little weak. I thought he needed to rest."
Tony glanced over at the door to the room.
"And Anthony," his father continued, "if it is easier, you should just call me Dominic."
Tony looked back at his father and gave a short nod. He didn't know if he could say it, not yet. He would go home and practice saying it into the mirror a few times, to see how his face looked and to get used to the sound of it in his ears. But it would be easier than calling him .... anything else.
He swallowed. He knew Gibbs would already have said it, but he had to say it as well. "Umm, listen..." he looked at the door and thought again of Gibbs' words. "Thank you," he said quickly. He looked back at Dominic, and this time he held his gaze. "Thank you for bringing us here." He realised with surprise that they were standing closer than they usually did, but he felt no anxiety and no need to move away.
"I'm glad I could help."
"I suppose we're even then".
Dominic started and frowned. "What are you talking about?"
"You don't owe me anything now," Tony looked back at the door. "Paid in full, and all that."
Dominic shook his head. "Is that what you think Anthony, that I did this to pay a debt?" His voice was growing louder, and Tony flinched. "I'm sorry," Dominic amended immediately. "Anthony, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to shout, but you can't really think that's why I did it."
Tony was silent. He didn't know what to think. He didn't know what he wanted to think. If his father had done this to pay a debt then that would have ended things between them. They could both walk away and forget. He had what he wanted – Gibbs and his life – and his father had what he wanted – absolution.
"But you're off the hook," Tony offered, his eyes finding a scuff mark on the linoleum some distance away. "It's done, really." He looked up, and gave his father a smile. It was a good one, he thought. It would have fooled most people, certainly anyone who did not know him well.
Dominic paused, and looked closely at his son. "Bullshit," he said tersely. "It's not done. It's nowhere near done." He drew a deep breath and blew it out slowly, shaking his head. "Anthony, listen to me. Gibbs asked me why I loaned you the plane, and I said it was because you asked. And that's true. That's all it was. You asked, and I could." He was almost pleading now. "It wasn't meant to be a trade."
Tony looked back at his father, weighing his words, looking for evidence of his lies or insincerity.
His father continued. "I can't make up for what I did to you. I'm not trying to do that." He reached out and almost touched Tony's arm, but dropped his hand. "I'm trying .....". He paused.
"What are you trying to do?"
"I'm trying to get to know my son," Dominic shot back. "For god's sake Anthony, I am trying to have some sort of relationship with you, I'm trying to show you that I care about you, that I love you..."
Tony stepped back his, eyes wide. Dominic looked away and buttoned his suit coat. That wasn't how he had planned to say it. He'd screwed it up. He rubbed a hand across his forehead and was suprised to find it shaking.
For a second, Tony couldn't breathe. A bolt of anger went through him – what was his father thinking, saying that? Why would he say it? How could he expect..... ? Then he sagged. It was all too much. Too much had happened in the last 48 hours and he couldn't make sense of it now. First Gibbs was proud of him, now his father loved him. He did not know how much more of this he could take.
He took a few steps away and sank down onto one of the plastic seats.
Dominic sighed heavily. He felt that he should say something. It was his fault - he'd promised himself that he would not screw it up, that he'd watch what he said, and he'd failed. Again.
"I'm sorry Anthony, I didn't mean to say it like that."
"Did you mean to say it at all?"
Dominic looked at him in surprise. Tony didn't sound angry, he just sounded... curious.
"Yes," he replied softly. "I did mean to say it. Just not yet, and not like that. Look, you're tired and busy ...."
"Yeah, I am." Tony rose slowly to his feet. "And I can't think about this right now. I need to check on Gibbs and I need get back to NCIS."
Dominic nodded. Tony walked past him, and then stopped. Slowly he turned and stepped back.
"So you just did it," he asked haltingly, "because...?"
"Because my son asked."
Tony paused. He stood motionless for a while, then squared his shoulders and turned to face his father.
"I should still say "thank you"" he insisted softly. "Thank you....Dominic." Very slowly he extended his hand. As his hand neared his father he felt a rising panic, a slow choking fear, but he kept his head up and looked his father straight in the face. To his relief, his hand wasn't shaking.
Just as slowly, Dominic reached out and carefully grasped his son's hand. It was warm and slightly damp but the grip was firm and the shape oddly familiar. He gave a quick squeeze and shook it twice as his father had taught him to do when he was a boy, as he had taught his son.
"My pleasure, Anthony," he said softly. He did not want to let go, but he did, his hand tingling from the contact.
For a moment the two men looked at each other. Dominic no longer saw his guilt and his weakness, his shame personified. Instead he saw a young man of fine qualities and good humour, respected, talented and liked. A man he was proud to know, and who he wanted to know better. And Tony no longer saw a nightmare, a clenched fist or open hand. Instead he saw a flawed but a proud man, struggling to do his best to right a wrong. A man he felt he could understand. For each of them, looking was no longer an ordeal or a struggle; it was simply looking.
Dominic gave a small smile. So did Tony. Now, maybe, they had a chance.