A/N: I don't even know anymore. Blame, um, well...Gah, I don't know, blame the USA network. That's right. And puppies. Blame puppies...
Disclaimer: If I owned show wouldn't show love Tony as much as I love Tony? Silly show, it doesn't love Tony enough and it doesn't belong to me. Oh-for-two show, tsk, tsk.
Summary: How long does it take it take for the whole world to fall apart? Sometimes it takes a moment, an hour, a day. And sometimes it takes eight minutes and thirty-seven seconds.
Title: Eight Minutes and Thirty-Seven Seconds
The damned thing about it is he looks so confused. It's got all the suddenness of Kate, except she never had a chance to register the hit. He just seems so completely surprised. Seconds before he was standing there with that damned DiNozzo grin that said 'I know you told me not to and I disobeyed a direct order but I was right and it all worked out boss so no harm done'.
But there is because the pleased, proud, sheepish, shiny smile slides off his face. At first they don't see why, can't see what's changed and the quip they all knew was coming just…doesn't. So now they're standing there with confused looks on their faces until, until he pulls back the right half of his jacket and they see, see what took away the one-liner and the singular smirk.
He slides next, slides down the side of the SUV they used for cover, still looking so devastatingly mystified. His hand goes to the wound, and Gibbs isn't sure if it's to stem the bleeding or make sure it's real. He shudders, shudders while they all just stand there for a second longer. Stand there doing absolutely nothing because they're just as baffled.
He has confirmation; red, oozing, warm confirmation that it's real; that this is happening. It takes them longer. Longer for Gibbs to finally remember what the hell comes next, barking for McGee to get the ambulance here before the sliding and the shuddering and the, and the... Ziva is sent to secure their suspects, less alive now, and he… He falls in line with DiNozzo where he should have been since, since the sliding and the shuddering and the…
"Boss?" Tony asks and now they've both got confirmation, it's running, seeping, flowing all over their hands. Pressure, pressure, pressure.
"Yeah DiNozzo?" He manages gruffly. It's warm and on the wrong side and the wrong color and the wrong man and just wrong.
"I think I might've gotten shot or…something." He's using that voice, the voice he uses when he's trying to distract them. It's supposed to only be for McGee after explosions on ships and victims when they're trapped in a sewer or Abby when it's coming up sideways but will work out anyway. Not with Gibbs, not with his boss whose job it is to do the reassuring. Especially not when the marine can almost feel all the scars in his lungs as they falter under the strain. His hands, hot now and sticky with all the wrongness, feel the vibrations course through them with each shaky intake.
"You know, I think I noticed something like that DiNozzo." Is the only offer he can make. Training tells him he should check to see where the bullet went or if it's still in there, rattling around just like his lungs. Instinct tells him it won't help to know.
"I just bought this jacket." His agent continues in that voice, pretending that he's not leaking all over the damn asphalt and his boss. "Every time I wear… something… nice people try and… kill me." There's a rasp now, more like a buzzing, a low grinding that stalls the words.
"Only you DiNozzo," Gibbs continues with a scoff.
"You ever notice that people say that a lot?" The younger man asks. "Own," a hiccup or was it a cough or, "Only you DiNozzo." He tries to laugh but then there's wheezing and there's shivering and, "People just trying to tell me I'm special boss?" A stutter and sharp shallow breaths. He closes his eyes and tilts his head against the car bracing, bracing so he can breathe.
"Oh you're special alright DiNozzo." Sarcasm, Tony is comfortable with sarcasm. And he's supposed to be the one putting people at ease. He's supposed to be the one making light of a bad situation so that the agent, his agent, knows that they'll be okay, he'll be okay. It will be okay.
"Knew you. Noticed. Buh-baw-boss." The 's' is a hiss now and DiNozzo's making that huh-huh-haw-haw noise that's not a laugh but it's not a groan but it's not alright. "M'a very spe-heh-cial agent." He waggles his eyebrows and Gibbs notices how much color there isn't in his cheeks.
"Special is one way to describe it." He answers while his hands move like he's giving compressions because of all the breathing the younger man isn't doing. What had Ducky said after the Maddie-river-car fiasco? More damage, more tissue taking up space it wasn't supposed to have. More in the way of his body doing its job. More that makes less. Less oxygen with each breath. Less power in those organs. Less of a chance…
"Doe-doe-don't go getting sen-a sentimental on me Baw-hoss." A sickening rattle takes place of the wheeze when he talks but they're in tandem when he sits there spilling vital liquids all over the damned place. It's still too hot on his hands and too thick and too much and how can there be any left and how? "My-my-might think you'd guh-gone saw-soft. Probie'd start geh-getting ideas."
He doesn't mean to but it makes him press harder, hold tighter. Make it stay. Make it fit. Like wives and cell phones. Tony can't bite back the groan, which means more shaking, and shivering and damned coughing which is starting to sound wet and dismal and disturbing. "He'll be getting lots of ideas if he doesn't get the damn ambulance here soon."
"Mm-huh-huh." There's shifting and quaking and how can it just rattle like that? "Average ruh-response tuh-time is teh-ten minutes… Boss." When he says it he says like he knows, knows they don't have ten minutes because they don't have seven, they don't have four. It's been too many already. Too many seconds since the shock and the sliding and the shuddering and the wrongness all over his hands.
"Well it's good thing you're not in rush right DiNozzo?" Gibbs uses the order, the command, the 'just try and tell me I'm wrong' that Tony is the only one brave enough to defy. Ducky might because he has no reason to fear Jethro, and it's the same with Abby, that's not how their relationships work. But McGee, he wouldn't dream of it unless it was a nightmare and Ziva lost that urge long before it mattered. As usual his senior agent is the only hold out.
"Nuh-nuh-no rush Boss. Just," wheezing and he can feel it in his toes, "Might be nigh-nigh-nice if they wuh-were." It's the kind of thing that would break someone's heart if they heard it. Like a child asking what they did to deserve all of the ugliness that's been left at their door. As it is he looks away and resets his features, casting his eyes to the ground as if he'll find the strength DiNozzo needs to just stay.
Suddenly he wonders if it's better that Ziva's too busy being busy to notice how badly this turned and McGee's hasn't seen enough to pick up on the signs. If it were how it could be, if it were how it should be then they'd be back already and looking nervous and scared and not what Tony needs because if he's trying to comfort Gibbs then things aren't just wrong they're bad and wrong and getting worse.
As it stands he doesn't think any of it will matter. There's something especially off with the whole thing. Something DiNozzo is playing close, something he's trying to hide. It shouldn't be this much, he should have had longer before all the… all this. Gibbs has seen men shot here before, hell he's seen DiNozzo shot here before, it was back before he employed by the federal government, when he'd shout the name of a police department not an agency.
McGee jogs back and he'd smack him if his hands weren't covered in Tony. For not realizing exactly how much time they don't have. For not seeing the meaning in the, "McIpedia, teh-tell the boss tha-there-hair's some rule abow-about field agents being reimbursed fuh-for dam-damaged prop-perty. Like fuh-fine Italian where-hair-hairs." Tony says, but it's not what he means. He means something that would make Gibbs hands shake if they weren't clinging so hard. "My-my druh-dry cleaner hay-hates me. And I have-haven't even hi-hit aw-on her yet."
The kid doesn't notice though, he still thinks this all routine. DiNozzo will bitch and moan and make a big deal out of how he was shot while being all heroic and brave and did they see his stitches? McGee will roll his eyes and Abby will fuss and Tony will give him that look over her shoulder that's smug and silly and would warrant a slap to the back of the head if Gibbs were there but he's somewhere else during those moments.
So he does just that, he rolls his eyes and retorts, "I'm sure Vance would love to buy you a new Armani shirt every time you get yourself into trouble Tony." Now despite the hold he has on his senior agent Jethro's hands are starting to tremble. How can Tim not see? See what's spilling from Tony over Gibbs and into the cracks in the asphalt. See what's slipping away no matter how good a grip he thinks he's gotten.
"McGee! Where the hell is my bus?" He all but shouts and tries to feel some satisfaction that it snaps the kid back but with all the wrong and the wheezing and the shuttering he can't find it.
"They, uh, they should be here any minute Boss." Tim supplies, thoroughly supplicant. DiNozzo turns back to Gibbs and tries to catch his gaze. He already knows what he'll find if he meets it. Tony will want him to ease up on the junior agent; his eyes will say it as clearly as they convey everything else. 'He doesn't mean it Boss. He doesn't know any better. Let it be. It's fine, really.' But it's not and it never will be if the paramedics don't get here five minutes ago. He tightens his grip again and the moan turns into hacking.
"Gibbs they are-" Ziva stops short as soon as she reaches them, her sentence isn't important enough to finish now that she's seen. Where McGee might be too green to hear just what Tony isn't saying she knows this kind of wrong better, knows his agent better. "Tony." Even her whisper is choked and if he wasn't who he was it might have been what cracked him.
Gibbs doesn't miss the panicked look that flashes on Tony's face as he shoots his gaze between his partner and Tim, then back. He's trying to cover as much as he can but now with Jethro there knowing and Ziva there knowing and Tony having it figured it out first he slips. For all of a second. "Zeev-Ziva. Wuh-would you… tell. The probie. Tha-that," And his hands aren't the only thing trembling now, "It-it's nuh-not nice. Tuh-to. Tease. Thuh-the woo-wounded." The hitching might be worse than the wheezing.
"Is that not the teapot calling the cooking pot black?" She teases back, letting a little humor into her voice but not enough to be convincing.
"Wuh-we weh-went over. This. One. All-already, Zee-zee-vah," the cough isn't a cough anymore and there's more rattling than before and, "Pah-pot. Keh-kettle. Nuh-nuh-not-not," His head dips forward and then he's doing his best impersonation of a coughing fit except it's more like snorkeling now and the breathing he's doing isn't so much breathing as spasming. Now Ziva's done playing along and Tim face crumbles like he just tuned in finally except the movie is almost over and the ending is ruined for him and when did DiNozzo's life as film metaphors start rubbing off and… "Nuh-nuh-knew I shuh-should have stuh-stayed huh-home lie-like Bruh-Brad sah-said."
"You've always been crap at listening to orders DiNozzo." And now he's not saying what he means. He should, he could, ask what that's supposed to be but his mind is too consumed with the staying and the slipping and the wrongness and the heat that isn't enough anymore either.
"Aw buh-buh-boss yuh-you nuh-nuh-know thah-that's whuh-why yuh-you did-didn't ki-kill me thah-that fur-first wee-week." Tony swallows but the logistics of that are trickier and maybe it isn't swallowing, maybe it's drowning. "Thaw-thought ya-you my-my-might fuh-for uh-uh-a hoe-whole muh-month." People that sound like this when they're sucking in air shouldn't be able to grin like that. Not with that hollow bubbling sound and the quivering and, Jesus, "Did-did-didn't thuh-thuh-though. Cou-could-couldn't ruh-ruh-resist thuh-thuh-thuh-thuh-the Duh-duh-DiNuh-nuh-Nozzo chuh-charm." He smiles wide again and how can it not hurt him to do that if it's tearing Gibbs like it is? "I-I'm ear-ear-irre-ziss-ziss-ziss-tuh-tuh-tible."
"Like a benign tumor." The marine cuts. He can't move his own eyes from his shaking, not shaking, clenching hands that are covered in slick, cooling, congealing, wrongness. There would be consequences if he looked up at Tony's face again. He can't, he just... how…"McGee." The retort is sharper than any rifle he's used.
"It should be any minute Boss. It…" The kid's losing all sense of composure now and maybe if he weren't trying to will DiNozzo to stop hemorrhaging and Ziva wasn't trying too hard to be strong and Tony wasn't trying so hard to pull in oxygen they'd be crumbling right along with him. "Any, uh, any minute."
Eight minutes of his senior field agent's body trying to die and his senior field agent trying not to die and him trying to help him tow that line with nothing but his hands and gruff half-assed wit while his junior agent can't do anything but breathe and his other other agent is leaking an entirely different set of fluids. He stares down at the EMT's that are asking stupid questions like 'Do you know your name?' and hopes they're not fooled by the myriad of aliases Tony tries as they put him on the gurney. He wants to growl and snap and yell. He wants them to be faster, to do more. Can't they see the wrong he's covered in? Can't they taste the salt and copper and feel the quaking and the shutters and stutters?
By the time the doors to ambulance are closed DiNozzo's started seizing and he's not passing off vague references to Bond villains anymore.
He's used to it all being too sudden, too quick, to not remember the burn of gunpowder, the muzzle flash, the tumbling words, the blinding heat and light. He's used to everything ending, everything crashing in a moment or three. Now he all but collapses to the curb and realizes that the world doesn't always end in an instant. Sometimes it takes eight minutes and thirty-seven seconds.
A/N: Feedback would be really awesome on this one. It's a different kind of style so I'm hoping it worked for you guys. I'm still a little unsure about it, so any and all commentary would be great.