Author's Note: Again, thank you all for your reviews. I wanted to reply to each one and may have mistakenly answered sme twice. Drat FF system changes. Forgive the -duh- moment. LOL. I wanted you to all know that your comments, pointers, con crit have been most welcomed. I hope this ending doesn't disappoint. Much love, Yuma
Ducky, despite usually being down in the bowels of the autopsy room, always seemed to have an innate sense when something was off. Kate was surprised to find the elderly ME in the bullpen this late in the evening.
A quick scan of the desks clustered around Gibbs' domain and noting Gibbs was already gone for the day, Ducky shook his head ruefully. He probably saw something everyone else on the floor suspected and steered away from. Clearing his throat, Ducky announced he was going to visit Tony at ICU and would there perhaps be anyone interesting in coming along?
He made no show of hiding his smile when the multiple responses were immediate.
Kate found herself chauffeuring everyone to the hospital, leaving no moment for her to mull over the day's events. Probably just as well, she thought, considering how she spent most of the day glaring at the computer monitor and Gibbs' distant reflection. It wouldn't have helped matters if she had snapped back at him. Way to kill a career.
The hospital was quiet when they arrived, and they easily found a nurse to tell them where the ICU ward was. The nurse also added with sympathetic regret it was limited to one visitor at a time.
Kate contented herself with sitting outside the waiting area as everyone took his or her turn.
"You think Tony knows?"
Kate looked up from an old Newsweek she was flipping through. McGee was watching Abby in the ICU ward, the viewing window clearly showing the Goth technician talking to Tony despite the fact DiNozzo was sedated and asleep.
"Knows what?" Kate watched with a half-smile as Abby gestured in the air, undoubtedly reenacting something, although from here she couldn't tell what.
McGee cleared his throat. "That we, uh, called his family."
Kate stared at the magazine in her hand. It curled as she tightened her grip. "Probably."
Ducky didn't look at them, oddly engrossed in the silent miming happening in ICU. "I'm sure Tony knew you meant well," he murmured.
"I just don't understand why they never called back or even stopped by," McGee insisted. He ran a harried hand over his head, scrubbing his face before slumping back into his seat.
"They might have stopped by before and we didn't know it," Kate suggested. The twisting, sick feeling in her stomach said otherwise.
"Excuse me." A petite nurse with short brunette hair approached them. "Are you with Mr. DiNozzo?" She nodded toward the ICU window, cocking an eyebrow at Abby, who was now doing some weird animal puppet, her black pigtails bouncing actively to some beat only she could hear.
"Yes, we are," Ducky paused, concern growing. "Is something wrong?"
"No, no," the nurse was quick to say. "Nothing's wrong. Everything seems fine, and if all stays stable, he will be moved back to the regular floor tomorrow morning." She pulled out a small bag, revealing some cards inside.
"Mr. DiNozzo received a few bouquets after he was transferred. Unfortunately, due to his current condition, we couldn't allow them in the ICU, and the flowers had been removed. We did keep the cards that came with them in case he wanted to read them."
"How thoughtful." Ducky thanked her, accepting the bag before she left. McGee curiously poked through the stack with a finger. He blinked.
"Hey, I think you're right, Kate," McGee brightened.
McGee pulled out a small gift card that was once attached to a bouquet. He passed it to Kate.
"Looks like they tried?" McGee said hopefully. He looked overwhelmingly relieved to find the card.
"Perhaps," Ducky murmured, exchanging a look with Kate. It was clear someone else written the note and had Mr. DiNozzo signed it. She wondered if the senior DiNozzo even knew what he was signing.
Kate turned the card slowly in her hand, making a face at the frayed piece of pink ribbon dangling off its notch. "Get well soon" was written in concise lettering on the card, the signature below it a sloppy B.N. DiNozzo that trailed off the edge of the card, cutting off the last "z" and"o".
"He looks better," Abby announced as she reached their side. She nodded to Ducky, her hair swinging. "I mean, he doesn't look very Bela Lugosi anymore."
Kate grimaced, the image a little too close for comfort for her. She instead sat back and watched Ducky through the window and bided her time until it was her turn.
Despite what Abby said and what Ducky how reassured them, Kate thought, in all essence, that Tony still looked like crap. And worse, the oxygen line and the various IV bags dangling over him like a bundle of colorless balloons were back.
"Hey...DiNozzo." Kate paused. It felt so odd hearing her voice out loud, unanswered. The soft beeping in the background filled the void. Kate sat down on the nearby chair. She grimaced at the stack of magazines.
"McGee got you some new reading material," she told the sleeping agent. "Sure you'll appreciate the swimsuit issues more than those old Time and Military History ones, although I didn't expect you to be a history buff, Tony." Kate flipped through one idly, noting some corners were folded in. "Damaging public property, DiNozzo?" Kate tsked, quickly skimming the article on the Gettysburg battlefield. "Least you don't have to worry about being able to sleep," she muttered as she scanned the article. She set the issue down, stacking it on top of the more raunchy ones Tim brought in.
"There was a bunch of flowers for you here," Kate went on. Guiltily, she fingered the card Tim found inside her pocket. "Big surprise, some of those girls know how to spell, too." She laughed awkwardly before realizing it just wasn't the same without Tony firing one back at her. Kate cleared her throat.
"You know, everyone keeps saying 'fifteen percent,'" she said softly. She ran her hands across the purse on her lap. "But you've never been about numbers, right?" Kate sighed. "Okay, think of it this way. Gibbs has been a complete ass with you in here. Give it a couple of days, he'll be slapping the backs of our heads. You better hurry up and get out of here before Gibbs does." She leaned forward and looked at Tony earnestly. Tony never replied, his chest rising slowly as he lay tucked into the bed. He still looked cold. Kate pulled his covers a little higher to his shoulders.
Suddenly, one of the machines wailed.
Kate jumped up, her purse tumbling off her lap and spilling its contents under the bed. She frantically looked around, the beeping louder and filling the room. Oh, God, what did she do? What was happening?
"It's okay, it's okay," a soft voice assured her. A nurse came rushing into the room. Kate could see Ducky and the rest of the group on their feet, peering anxiously towards the window. They could hear the wailing from where they were.
"I just tried to..." Kate struggled to explain. "He looked cold."
The nurse, with a kind, lined face and bright green eyes, nodded. Kate calmed at her smile. The nurse didn't seem worried, only amused as she pointed to one of the monitor lines on the blankets.
"Must have come dislodged," the nurse just said before reattaching it. Sure enough, the beeping stopped.
Kate stammered an apology before crouching down to pick up the contents of her purse. After a few failed attempts to shove her lip gloss and wallet in—her hands were shaking, why were they shaking?—Kate rocked back on her heels and gulped. Stale air burned her throat.
"Would you like a few more minutes?" the nurse asked gently, wise eyes tracking her as Kate rose to her feet, fumbling to loop the purse strap back over her shoulder.
"N-no," she stuttered, already backing up. "I should…they would want to see him, too." She escaped before the nurse could ask again. She mumbled she needed the restroom as she went by her friends, ignoring Mallard's soft call, or McGee's queries. Instead, she pushed forcefully at the bathroom door and steered for the sink. Shaking, her hands couldn't get the sink faucet to work. With a squeak, cold water gushed out, over the sink and her sleeves.
Kate staggered back, her purse dropping to the floor. She stumbled until her back hit one of the stall doors; another step, and she sat down on the toilet. The door swung shut, startling her. Kate stared at the beige metal door swinging, not catching the lock, the sink bubbling with water, her purse sitting in a pool of it on the floor. The dark puddle reflected the shadows and looked like blood.
Kate slammed the stall shut and sat there, her hand in her mouth, trying very hard not to throw up.
Whether anyone noticed or thought it strange she took so long in the bathroom, no one mentioned it. After McGee had his turn, Ducky suggested a quick bite to eat at the nearby café across from the hospital before they all headed home. Kate found herself out-voted and resigned herself to being tugged along by Abby, who was chatting away about all the cards she was nosing through while everyone had their visits.
The café, with its deep burgundy red umbrellas and matching canopy, reminded Kate of the European bistros she'd happened upon during her career in the Secret Service, accompanying the president during his Euro tour. Apparently, the owner had the same thought, as the restaurant was dubbed the Écureuil Rouge.
Red Squirrel, she translated with a wince. Oddly fitting, with its stark exposed red brick interiors and the plates and cups in bold matte red.
"Very bourgeois," Abby commented before claiming the seat furthest from the window, pinning McGee to the wall as everyone else crammed in the booth. She ogled one Airman walking by with his drink, winking at the young man as he gaped back. "Add some black lace and liven up the music, and you could have some head-slamming going here."
"Ahem, yes, one of the nurses mentioned many of the staff comes here. They recommended their coffee highly," Ducky said. He peered at the menu one of the waitresses tossed down at the table before chirping she would be right back. He frowned, squinting through his spectacles at the offerings. "More café than restaurant though, I'm afraid. Only offerings of dark roast coffee and sandwiches, nothing more."
"Espresso?" Abby perked up.
"Many." Ducky raised an eyebrow at her. He watched, bemused, as Abby bounced out of her seat, deciding to get food herself. He chuckled, turning back to the table. "That child makes me weary just looking at her." His smile faded when he got a good look at the other two. Folding his hands together, he leaned back in his seat.
"He's all right, you know."
McGee nodded numbly. He unconsciously mimicked Ducky, tilting his head back to stare at the brass ceiling fan whirling lazily above. "He just…" He shrugged. "I'm not used to Tony being so quiet." He made a face. "Kept expecting to hear him torturing me, calling me 'Probie' and all." Tim cleared his throat, clearly uncomfortably talking about Tony like he was dead.
"Bet I'll get more done the next few weeks than I ever did before," Kate remarked, her chuckle sounding odd. She sat back in her seat, ignoring Ducky's sympathetic nod. She toyed with her purse strap, still damp from the restroom.
"Coffee!" Abby announced, setting a tray down in the center of the table. "Got some eats, too, if you're into the nourishment thing."
"Coffee at nine in the evening?" Ducky clucked. He chose the innocent looking tall red cup of tea and gave it an experimental sniff. Looking surprised, he took a sip and nodded.
"They've got some nice English Breakfast behind the counter. Loose teas, in fact," Abby teased her friend.
"Ah, I remember the most delightful little shop in Oxford that also served English Breakfast loose and straight from India."
"Why call it English then if it's from India?" Abby asked. She listened with a fond smile as Ducky predictably went off about imperialism and the colonization of India. Abby gave McGee an impish grin at his dismayed expression before nudging Kate with her elbow. "Oh, I didn't forget about you. Here you go. One regular house coffee, no foam, soy, three Equals." She didn't wait for Kate's response, already reaching for her triple espresso before McGee could grab it.
Kate mumbled her thanks and took a half-hearted sip of the coffee. One delicate eyebrow rose at the taste. It was surprisingly good, a deep nutty flavor, nothing like the crap Gibbs drank.
"Good," McGee mumbled, taking a hearty gulp of his drink before snatching a fry from Abby's plate. Abby slapped him in the arm as he dipped it into her Russian dressing.
Kate silently agreed as she took another drink. Gibbs, in a rare generous moment, once bought coffee for everyone, ordering his usual roast from the nearby coffeehouse. Unfortunately, the former marine must have lost his taste buds over the years of drinking the same strong brew. Kate chuckled to herself, recalling how DiNozzo blanched after a taste and gingerly set the coffee down in his wastebasket like it was an armed grenade, while McGee eagerly guzzled down his. How McGee could stomach the acrid brew was beyond her. Even Ducky wouldn't drink his, only muttering as he headed downstairs how Abby might want it for analysis. She found a chance to slip away to pour hers down the drain in the ladies' room.
Ducky took an experimental sniff of Abby's drink and nodded. "I don't know why he thought it was atrocious," he murmured to himself.
"What's that?" Abby mumbled as she plucked a fry from McGee's tray.
"Share, share alike, McGee."
"So you'll let me try a sip of your espresso?"
"You can order one at that counter there."
Kate let the conversation wash over her as she sipped her drink, contemplating the card still in her pocket. She ignored the voice chiding her for taking it. Kate took another sip. She savored the nutty brew and thought she could taste a hint of cinnamon. She took a deep breath of its aroma and tried very hard to listen to the conversations around her. The card sat uncomfortably in her pocket and pricked her all evening.
It wasn't until she dropped Abby off that Kate realized her PDA was missing from her purse. Parked below Abby's building, Kate thought of one other possibility for the mail bypassing Davenport, and searched for her PDA to make a note to check on it tomorrow at work. Rummaging through her purse, however, Kate discovered it was gone. Sitting in her car, she mentally traced back her steps, and she groaned out loud.
She must have dropped it under the bed in Tony's room. Kate, for a brief moment, debated waiting until tomorrow. But she soon found herself heading back toward Bethesda again.
By now, visiting hours were over. Kate avoided the staff, waiting until the duty nurse left her station before approaching the ICU ward. She could see Tony's room just a few doors away, the ICU viewing window clear to the visible eye, Tony lying exactly the way he had before when they had left him. Kate hurried her steps. She'd just go in real quick, see if Tony looked better, and grab her PDA—She stopped, suddenly realizing there was a shadow crossing the room. As it cleared the small night lamp, she gasped.
It was Gibbs.
The senior agent was walking up and down the room. He didn't look particularly worried, just walking as if he were strolling down the park. Only, Gibbs never strolled. His walk was always quick, efficient and purposeful. This time, however, Kate could tell he was just trying to be quiet, the magazine Gibbs was holding curled in his hand as it struck his palm in beat with his stride.
When Gibbs did an about-face in front of the bed, Kate slipped into one of the corridors and peered around its corner. She watched as the senior agent sat back down again. He grabbed another magazine from the stack on the end table, an eyebrow shooting up when he took in the cover. Gibbs smirked, muttered something under his breath, rotated the magazine vertically to study the centerfold, before flipping it back around and turning back to the first page.
Kate stayed where she was, mind reeling. A smile grew across her face, however, when she caught sight of a red coffee cup Gibbs reached behind for.
"Busted," she murmured, a smile twitching at the corner of her mouth. Her eyes widened as Gibbs lifted his head. She ducked back into the corner. No way he could have heard her from there. Kate slowly peered out from her hiding place once more.
The senior agent appeared to be listening to Tony instead. DiNozzo's head turned, the young man restlessly stirring. Gibbs leaned forward, looking intently at him. Kate could see Tony opening his eyes, blinking blearily at the ceiling before turning to Gibbs.
She couldn't hear what Gibbs was saying, or Tony, but whatever it was, Tony didn't seem too happy about the answer. His gaze moved toward the door and lingered on the empty doorway. Gibbs, visible only to Kate, darkened. He leaned back into his seat, the magazine curled and tapping into his palm once more.
Kate's shoulders slumped. The coolly written card sat heavily in her pocket. She thought she could feel its sharp corners cutting through the fabric and into her leg. She knew what Tony was searching for.
After a moment, Tony turned away and shrugged as if it wasn't important. But Kate could tell Gibbs wasn't fooled. To her disappointment, Gibbs shrugged as well, playing along with Tony. He sat back with his magazine and made some sort of remark to Tony, raising the cover up for him to see.
Whatever it was Gibbs said, Tony laughed. The younger agent waved weakly at the magazine and chuckled, a shadow of his familiar smirk twitching as he caught sight of the magazine Gibbs was reading. He opened his mouth to say something more but ended up jerking forward in a harsh cough. He waved a hand at Gibbs, probably to reassure the senior agent as he half rose from his seat and tried to speak, but it looked like another cough interrupted him.
All joking aside, Gibbs leaned forward, one hand gripping Tony's shoulder as the younger man bent over in misery. Shoulders shaking, Tony didn't seem to be able to draw another breath. It was alarming enough for Gibbs to step out of the ICU ward and waved down a nurse.
Before Kate could head over to the ward herself, a white uniform flashed by, entering even as Gibbs returned to Tony's side, one hand now soothingly rubbing the hunched back. He didn't leave even as the nurse nudged him aside to check on Tony.
Tony's hand flailed in the air in an attempt to wave everyone off. Slumping back to his pillow, Tony could only look on as the nurse busied herself listening to his chest with a stethoscope while calmly answering Gibbs' inquiries over her shoulder.
Kate relaxed when she saw the nurse straighten, with a pat of Tony's shoulder. Whatever she said appeared to reassure Gibbs. To Kate's amusement, the nurse patted Gibbs on the arm as well before walking out, her gaze lingering on him before she sashayed out of the room.
Gibbs ignored Tony's grin as he sat back down again. He shook his head at whatever Tony said, swatted the top of his head lightly, and pretended to be engrossed in the magazine once more.
Kate watched with a smile to herself as Gibbs every so often replied back to something Tony said, nodding absently, engrossed in whatever article he was reading. He didn't look up when Tony drifted back to sleep moments later, but no sooner when Tony did, Gibbs set down his magazine and reached over to shut off the light over Tony's head. He sat there, watching Tony silently, reaching for his coffee again. One sip, a grimace, and then Gibbs just sat there, his back ramrod straight, a sentry in the dark.
Kate couldn't bring herself to walk in. Silently, she bid the two men good night and stepped back. Without another glance, she walked away.
The next morning, Kate returned to work carefully balancing three cups of coffee from their usual coffeehouse. She was surprised to see Gibbs' desk was empty, even of the telltale coffee cup.
"Hey, did you hear?" McGee came up from behind her, sounding cheerful. "Tony's been moved out of ICU this morning."
Her mouth twitched. "Ducky told us it was just a precaution," she needled him. She offered him a cup before moving to her desk.
"Aw, I know, but I was worried," McGee protested before taking a sip.
"Don't let Tony hear you say that," Kate warned with a smirk. "You'll never hear the end of it." She chuckled when Tim blanched.
"I better get back to work," he mumbled, backing away with his drink.
"Best news I've heard all day, McGee," Gibbs commented, suddenly appearing to Kate's left.
She jumped. "Geez, Gibbs," Kate griped. Now she knew what Abby was talking about. "Wear a bell."
"What fun would that be?" Gibbs tossed back before heading for his desk. "Where are my reports?"
"Davenport's faxing them as we speak," Tim answered from his desk. He offered Kate a grin, tipping his coffee cup to her in thanks.
"I have the postmaster of that station coming in at one for some questioning," Kate added. "There are some discrepancies in the work logs for the day the mail was postmarked. Looks like some of his employees were not coming in to work like they say they were."
"Set him up in room two," Gibbs advised. "I also want to see if that woman sent any other letters to anyone else."
Kate reached into her handbag, intending to write it down. She stopped and groaned to herself. No PDA. Great, she'd have to figure a way to sneak back out on her lunch hour and get that.
"Thinking of visiting DiNozzo later," Kate remarked, hoping it would be excuse enough to find her PDA. Hopefully, one of the nurses found it.
Gibbs grunted. "Heard he's moved out of ICU."
Sure you did, Kate thought but bit back the smile. If that's how Gibbs wanted to play that, fine. "That's good," she said very slowly. "I uh, got the cards Tony received at the nurse's desk. Told them to give them to him when he wakes up."
Gibbs didn't comment. He looked at the computer screen with a scowl.
Kate stuck her hand in her pocket and fingered the card. Slowly, she pulled it out. "There was one card I took by mistake." She paused. "Maybe you can hold on to it for him?" She handed it over silently.
Eyes narrowing, Gibbs pulled the card back, scanning the brief message. He pressed his lips together as he read it. Then, he took the card and ripped it to two pieces.
Kate glanced over to Tim's desk, but the younger agent either didn't notice or was pretending not to. Either way, she looked back at Gibbs.
"This was the only card, wasn't it?" Gibbs asked quietly. He rubbed the torn pieces together in his hand.
Kate just nodded.
Gibbs sucked in his breath sharply. He then ripped it up once more before tossing it into his wastebasket. He narrowed his eyes at her, daring her to say something.
"Here." Kate set his cup down in the center of his desk.
Gibbs stared at the coffee for a moment. He looked up to find Kate waiting. Gibbs merely lifted the cup and peeled back the lid to give it a sniff. Raising a surprised eyebrow, Gibbs looked up at her.
"Your usual." She smiled cheekily before returning to her desk.
She turned around in time to catch whatever Gibbs tossed at her. She jumped when she realized it was her PDA. She snapped her gaze up to him, but he was sipping his coffee with that knowing smirk of his.
Kate shook her head and sat down, running her hands across the PDA. Glancing back at him, she rolled her eyes at Gibbs drinking his coffee and faced her computer again.
"You're welcome," she muttered, and smiled.
Author's Acknowledgments: Many thanks to my beta, my editors and proofreaders ofBrotherhood #1 who made this fic from idea to story painless and fulfilling. I'd learned so much. Thank you.