A/N: Contains spoilers for episode "The Immortals". AU Missing scene.

A Pain in the Back

By Lizabeth S. Tucker

Special Agent Tony DiNozzo hefted the team's bags, ignoring the twinge in his back where he had been hit by flying debris when Commander Rivers' conference room exploded. He just knew he'd have a spectacular bruise.

"DiNozzo! Stop lollygagging," Gibbs barked.

"Coming, boss." Gritting his teeth, Tony hustled to keep up with Gibbs and Kate Todd.

The flight home was a nightmare. His muscles began to tighten, protesting the uncomfortable canvas seats on the military transport. Tony shifted, trying to ease the ache in the small of his back.

Gibbs, sitting next to him, glared. "What the hell is wrong with you?"

"Nothing, Gibbs. Sorry."

Kate's laughter was biting. "Got ants in your pants, Tony, or something else? Maybe a little souvenir you picked up in Puerto Rico?"

Tony smiled wanly, earning a sharp look from Gibbs.

"I'm just tired, Katie." And with that statement, Tony leaned back sideways against his seat. He closed his eyes, concentrating on his breathing to deal with the throbbing.

Once they arrived at the naval airfield outside Baltimore, the three special agents trudged wearily to their waiting sedan. Without any argument, Tony let Kate have the front seat. He stood beside the open door, letting the stifling heat sweep over him, his eyes closed.

"Plan on getting in sometime soon, DiNozzo?"

Tony didn't reply, just gingerly settling himself into the back seat, again without leaning back into the padding. It was difficult keeping his torso twisted and still confined by his seatbelt while dealing with Gibbs' normal driving, aka NASCAR finalist.

He was sweating profusely by the time Gibbs pulled into the Navy Yard's covered parking area. Tony didn't realize that his silence had caught the attention of both agents in the front seat. Gibbs' driving had smoothed out, no longer was he weaving abruptly in and out of traffic.

Tony might have made it if Gibbs didn't have to stop suddenly to avoid hitting two people who appeared from behind their own vehicle. The younger man was slammed back against the seat, the pain flaring. He uttered a strangled scream, struggling to be released from the seatbelt.

"Tony?" Kate turned to look back at her partner. "Tony!" She pulled her own seatbelt loose, half crawling over the seat to get to him. She unhooked Tony's belt, freeing him to sprawl on his stomach on the seat. He kept reaching back, trying to lift his shirt, but couldn't seem to complete the action. Kate pulled the edge gently up, surprised to see blood oozing around a splinter of wood.

By this time Gibbs had put the car into park and was out of it, pulling the back door open. He saw Kate's hand reach toward the splinter and grabbed her wrist. "Don't touch it. Get Ducky. Now!"

"It's just a splinter," she protested.

"It's shrapnel. We don't know how long it is or what it has hit. You pull it out and he could bleed out."

Kate paled at the thought. She nodded in understanding, turning to step out of the car. She pulled her cell phone out to dial the medical examiner, cursing softly when she realized there was little cell service in the garage. "I'll get him." Kate took off running for the stairs.

Tony's fingers were digging into the carpeted floor of the vehicle, biting down on the pain welling up inside him. He felt Gibbs touch his shoulder.

"Hang in there, Tony. Ducky's on the way. Don't move."

"Don't…don't think I can, b-boss. Hurts."

"Yeah, bet it does. You've got some shrapnel in your back. Why didn't you say anything?"

"Didn't know. Thought it was," Tony swallowed, fighting through the pain. "Thought it was just…bruise."

Dr. Ducky Mallard came bustling through the emergency exit, his medical bag clutched in his hand. Kate was a step behind him. He hurried to the car, moving to the passenger side and opening the door. "Oh, dear, Anthony. What have you done to yourself?"

"Got caught in an explosion, Ducky." Tony was panting now, trying to be strong.

"I want you to keep very still. Caitlin, go call for an ambulance. We need to see what, if anything, this splinter has hit."

The trip to the hospital was a blur for all involved. Tony had made a pitiful cry when he was moved carefully onto the ambulance gurney, passing out at last. Ducky had promised to meet them there with the special agent's medical records.

Gibbs, grim-faced, looked after the vehicle as it pulled out of the parking area, lights and sirens in use. "Duck, call Gerald and have him get the records down here asap. I'll drive us to the hospital."

The two NCIS agents waited impatiently in the emergency room's brightly decorated visitor area. Kate flipped through a month old woman's magazine, never seeing a single article. Gibbs was about to force his way through the barricading doors when Ducky walked through the staff doors, accompanied by a doctor wearing a colorful lab coat.

"Anthony will be fine."

Kate closed her eyes in a moment of thankful prayer. Gibbs visibly relaxed.

"This is Doug Matlin, Tony's very capable emergency room physician." Ducky introduced the doctor.

"The splinter was very long and came uncomfortably close to your man's kidneys, but luckily he managed to keep himself from moving too much, preventing too much damage. I think he should stay the night, but I see no problems with releasing Agent DiNozzo tomorrow morning."

"Can we see him?" Gibbs asked.

"For a moment. We'll be moving him to a room soon." The doctor shook Gibbs' hand before disappearing back into the bowels of the emergency room.

Ducky led the other two through the staff doors, weaving in and around the various equipment cluttering up the hallway. Tony was sprawled on his stomach in the examination room, his head facing the doorway. His eyes were blinking lazily.

"He's been given some painkillers. The splinter's removal was not pleasant," Ducky said quietly. "Hello, Anthony. I've brought you some very worried visitors."

A smile crossed the younger man's face. "Hey, boss. Kate."

"You tell me next time, got it, DiNozzo?" Gibbs ordered.

"Yeah, I've got it. Honestly didn't think it was anything important."

"You just want an interesting story to tell the clerks at NCIS," Kate said, relieved to be able to tease her partner.

"Think they'll be impressed?" Tony asked.

Before Tony and Kate could begin bickering, Gibbs called a stop to it. "We have reports to finish, Kate. Tony, do what you're told. I expect you back at work day after tomorrow."

"I should be able to come in tomorrow, boss."

Gibbs shook his head. "No need. I want you back and ready to work, so you'll take the extra day."

Ducky nodded approvingly even as Tony grumbled about the enforced sick leave. "Quite right. We should go, let you rest for a while. You should be moved to a regular room in less than an hour, my boy."

"Behave yourself, Tony." Kate brushed her hand over his shoulder as she turned to follow the medical examiner from the room.

Gibbs looked down at his senior agent. "Call me when you're released. I'll come drive you home."

"Thanks, boss."

May 2009