Disclaimer: I own nothing about the NCIS series, its characters or plotlines. Why rub it in?
Spoilers: Hung Out to Dry
Summary: He feels his stomach drop clear out of the plane, following the dim figure of his senior agent as he freefalls toward the earth.
A/N: Blame it on too much Richefic and Hurt/Comfort Tony stories recently. XD Anyway, sorry for the long hiatus from the world of NCIS, but please bear with me a little longer. I borrowed a few quotes from the episode; it helped the process – and the story – along. It was a labor of love, anyway – took three days to write it and get it right! ^-^
Gravity (n) – the force of attraction by which terrestrial bodies tend to fall toward the center of the earth; seriousness, importance, or concern
For a split second he's not entirely sure what happened. The startled cry barely registers over the hot, fast roar of adrenaline through his system as he struggles with the rest of the Marines to separate Dafelmair and Brinkman and it's only on an afterthought that he realizes what the sound means. Fighting his way to the open hatch, he feels his stomach drop clear out of the plane, following the dim figure of his senior agent as he freefalls toward the earth.
"Always wanted to jump. Agent Gibbs came to laugh." He wonders, in a flash of abstract thought, why Tony thought he'd laugh. Yeah, he'd teased him about it earlier, but it was a joke, not a reflection on his skills at an activity best treated with caution. Then he realizes it doesn't matter anyway; he's safe on the plane and Tony's subject to the whims of gravity. He's never felt less like laughing.
He almost can't breathe past the tide of emotion threatening to overwhelm him as time becomes elastic and seconds become hours as he waits to see the 'chute unfurl. Only when he sees the pale canopy blossom below him can he think straight through the panic running roughshod over his control.
"Goodbye, DiNozzo!" he yells, because it's his normal, expected response to a situation where things might've been bad but, in reality, weren't. And he lets a grin spread across his face at the gleeful shouts that distantly echo back to the plane, because he might be a little proud of his agent's reaction to the situation and because he can finally believe the situation will turn out fine.
By the time he's finally on the ground, he's surprised to find his agent conspicuously absent from the landing site. Turning Dafelmair over to Kate, he works his way across the field to check in with the ground personnel. Finding out that DiNozzo has yet to show at the site and hasn't called to check in with Kate sends a quiver of unease down his back and he doesn't realize that his sharp order for Kate's keys carries undertones of worry, doesn't see the strange look his newest agent throws in his direction. He's already moving toward the car, trusting that Kate and the MPs have the situation in hand and that DiNozzo belongs in no one's care but his own. He peels off down the worn asphalt road running parallel to the landing site, judging his direction based on wind speed and DiNozzo's own amateur abilities to steer his 'chute.
Thirty minutes later he finally picks out the shadow on the side of the road, thanks to a combination of bright headlights and the weak ambiance left by the rapidly fading sunset. Easing to a stop in front of his agent, he runs an eye over the younger man as he climbs into the car, relieved to find nothing obviously amiss.
"Wondered when you'd show up, Boss," DiNozzo quips as he buckles in and braces himself as they make a squealing U-turn to head back to the landing site.
Tossing a quick glance at his second, he takes in the cold-flushed cheeks and minute stress lines around his mouth, realizing there's a story here but choosing not to pry.
At least, not now.
"You couldn't have called for assistance?" he questions and sees the way the younger man immediately tenses, the tips of his ears coloring a little more at the query.
"Ah, well, see, I would've if my phone hadn't fallen into a puddle before I landed on it," is the response, delivered with forced cheeriness. He rolls his eyes at how wrong the kid takes the question, but refrains from commenting as they pull up to the landing site.
In an instant they're agents again, as he sees to Dafelmair's transport back to NCIS and Tony heads off to report in on his jump gear. Any and all loose ends in the field are tied off and they set off back to headquarters. He's not surprised to see Tony's head droop every so often, finally coming to rest against the window as he dozes in the back seat, despite Kate's white-knuckled grip on the door handle; the adrenaline from the jump is bound to wear off sooner than later and the crash will be brutal when it finally hits.
He chooses to ignore the careful way DiNozzo holds his right leg as they head up to the bullpen to finish up their paperwork. It's quiet as they write up their reports, Kate too focused on getting it right the first time to rag on DiNozzo's late arrival after his jump. Not surprisingly, she's the first to leave, her first official case closed early enough in the evening for a good night's sleep. Tony takes longer to call it quits for the night, sticking around for the evening news report.
"We ever gonna make the eleven o'clock news?" he questions, eyes fixed on the report on the Fuentes case.
"Coulda happened tonight if you'd broke your neck." It's the truth, though something about the kid's posture suggests it's taken as more than that. Watching as Tony limps to the elevator, holding his right leg as stiff as possible while still walking, Gibbs wonders how badly he's hurt himself and how big a bastard he had to be if DiNozzo didn't even try to mention it.
Briefly distracted by the damn phone, he tosses it in a drawer before heading for the stairs at a run, hoping to catch his senior agent before he gets past the lobby. He's pleased he isn't winded as he hits the ground floor, catching sight of Tony's back before the garage security doors close behind him. Following his agent, he manages to be near enough to catch the younger man as his abused leg finally gives out, preventing him from injuring himself further.
"Boss," DiNozzo gasps as he tries to stand on his own again and discovers that the pain won't let him.
"DiNozzo, shut up," he demands gruffly, pulling the other man's arm over his shoulders to help him regain his balance. "Ducky or ER; your choice," he states, though he already knows what the decision will be. "Ducky," they say at the same time and he smothers a grin at the way Tony rolls his eyes. "Come on, DiNozzo."
The elevator ride to Autopsy is silent and he refuses to be the one to make it anything but. He keeps an eye on his charge as DiNozzo leans against the metal wall, his expression closed and guarded. With luck, they catch Ducky on his way out, waiting for the elevator. One look at his expression and DiNozzo's posture and the medical examiner turns on his heel and heads back into Autopsy, flipping on lights as he moves around the room.
"It's just a twisted knee and sprained ankle," Tony complains as he's helped into the suite. "I've had worse playing basketball and chasing suspects. All I need is some ice and rest." Gibbs flashes his subordinate a look and opens his mouth to comment on that but Ducky beats him to it.
"I trust you'll be so kind as to let me be the judge of that," the physician remarks dryly as he turns on the light directly over the nearest table and gestures for the junior agent to take a seat. DiNozzo mutters darkly under his breath as he strips off his jeans and shoes and climbs onto the table, calling up a few choice words about "stubborn Marines" and the medical population in general that Gibbs chooses to ignore, studying the slightly deeper lines etching themselves around the younger man's mouth – the only indication of his discomfort – instead.
He stands silently by Ducky's desk, watching the proceedings with narrowed eyes. DiNozzo rambles on about the movie he saw last month as Ducky pokes and prods, twists and turns his injured leg, the occasional stutter or stifled gasp the only sign that Ducky's ministrations are less than painless.
"And then Josh Charles' character pulls his gun and shoots himself, rather than face up to his actions, despite Samuel L. Jackson's character assuring him his partner will—hsst!" the younger man breaks off suddenly, flinching as Ducky finds a particularly sore spot. The M.E. shakes his head and heads over to the small cabinet next to his coat tree.
"As it happens, Tony, you are probably right about your injuries," he concedes, walking back to the table carrying two rolled elastic bandages. Tony tosses a triumphant look in Gibbs' direction. "However, you will need to keep the joints wrapped and give your leg a rest for the next few days. And see a doctor if it gets worse," the Scotsman admonishes firmly. Gibbs forestalls any forthcoming objection with a swift glare at his agent; there is no way he'll let DiNozzo add any more permanent damage to his knees by ignoring Ducky's advice. He glances away and bites his cheek to hide a smirk at the sullen pout his warning brings about. "Might I ask how, exactly, you accomplished this?" Ducky finally asks as he winds one bandage around his patient's knee. Without turning his gaze back to the lit table, Gibbs zones in on the conversation, curious to know exactly what happened himself.
"Fell out of a plane," DiNozzo mutters, his eyes trained on a spot somewhere above Ducky's left shoulder.
"I beg your pardon?" The elder M.E. straightens to look Tony full in the face, surprise written across his face.
Tony sighs, his shoulders sagging slightly as he leans back on his hands. "It was fine, Ducky; I had a working parachute. I just fouled up the landing a little. That's all." Gibbs suddenly remembers a comment DiNozzo made earlier, when questioned about his phone -- "I would've if my phone hadn't fallen in a puddle before I landed on it" -- and the pieces fall neatly together.
"Good thing you didn't break your neck falling out of that tree, DiNozzo," he comments in a low voice, knowing full well that it carries across the room. As he watches, DiNozzo's back stiffens and a look of long-suffering patience crosses Ducky's face. "Lots of first time jumpers damn-near kill themselves trying to get out of bad landings on their own."
His agent shoots a baffled expression at him, not quite understanding what he's saying. "Boss?"
He pushes off the wall and moves to stand next to the table. Without another word, Ducky secures the bandages and steps away to tidy things up. Gibbs runs a careful eye over his agent, his gaze lingering on the wrapped joints as the knowledge that things were a little closer to bad than he'd realized sinks in. Not for the first time, he finds himself contemplating the amount of trouble his agent manages to get himself into and, as in the past, discovers the tally is exhausting. Shaking his head, a vaguely amused expression on his face, he offers DiNozzo his clothes.
"Come on, DiNozzo. I'll drive you home." He doesn't realize there's a hint of amused, incredulous patience to his tone, doesn't see the small smile Ducky wears at it, doesn't realize it's that thread of emotion that finally allows Tony to relax and let him help. He just sees the weariness in every line of his agent's posture, the slight glaze over tired green eyes as the adrenaline crash starts to eat at the younger man's resolve, the sudden shift as DiNozzo gives in and accepts the hand he offers. Slowly they head out to the elevator, Ducky flipping off lights and closing down Autopsy behind them, as the dark haired man offers one last protest.
"Are you sure I can't drive, Boss? 'Cause, I mean, I really like my car and you tend to drive a little--" The head slap that cuts him off isn't quite as hard as usual but still firm enough to sting.
"DiNozzo? Shut up."
"I gotcha, Boss."