"Did you, uh, did you hit your shoulder?" (McGee)
"No, the car did, McGee." (Gibbs)
Fragments: After the Fall
'Jetlag' Episode Summary: Tony and Ziva are sent to Paris provide security and Stateside escort for a witness in a Navy embezzlement case. In one of those wonderful coincidences that Gibbs doesn't believe in, he and McGee are called to the scene of a dead marine, who just happens to be a killer for hire who just happens to have been contracted to kill their returning witness. As Tony and Ziva save the young woman's life mid-flight (she was nearly dispatched by a peanutty pillow, which triggered anaphylactic shock), Gibbs and McGee head out to interrogate the man she's testifying against. Discovering the contract was actually put out by the young woman's fiancé, they chase him to a parking garage and attempt to put a human barrier in the path of his oncoming vehicle. At the last second, Gibbs pushes McGee out of the way, saving his life but getting hit by the car himself. (It's okay - he hit the car back.) Bad guys (and even badder flight attendants) are captured, the witness survives to testify, and Gibbs gets a boo-boo.
Disclaimer: The characters (sadly) aren't mine, and no profit (also sadly) is being made.
Gibbs sat on the gurney, waiting, the starch white sheets crinkling beneath him, the ridiculous Johnny-coat doing nothing to keep him warm. He refused to think about the fact that he was cold, that he'd been cold since the moment they cut off his T-shirt. Not his jacket, though. Damned if he was going to let them cut that, no matter how much it hurt to get his arm out of the sleeve. The nurse, the little blond one, she'd almost taken him to task, but in the end he'd won that round, and she'd helped him remove it, lying it carefully on the chair beside him, all the while muttering to herself that if he'd come in the ambulance, he wouldn't have been given the choice to salvage his clothing.
But he hadn't come in the ambulance. He'd driven himself, one handed, once the scene had been secured and the ambulance had taken Sturgis away. McGee had offered to take him, but Gibbs needed his junior agent on the ambulance, escorting the man behind the assassination attempt on their witness. Besides, the last thing Gibbs wanted was McGee hovering around him as they waited interminable hours for something that could be fixed in minutes under the right circumstances. Leroy Jethro Gibbs might be a bastard at the best of times, but with the way he was feeling at the moment, he knew that designation would be a step up.
He hated hospitals. Always had. Hated them enough that over the years he'd taken to having Ducky patch him up when the need arose, which fortunately wasn't very often. But the call to Ducky hadn't gone as planned when the elderly medical examiner had refused to take care of this incident before him. 'Sounds dislocated, Jethro,' he'd said. Like that was something Gibbs didn't already know. 'You'll need X-rays to double check for fractures, then there's reduction, possible surgery. . . no, I think it's best you get this treated at the hospital.' Ducky had offered to come sit with him, give him a ride home, but Gibbs had refused for the same reasons he didn't want McGee here.
Used to be, hospitals didn't bother him as much. He hadn't really spent a whole lot of time in them, at least not for himself – for DiNozzo, now, that was another story. But after the explosion, and the coma, and that whole damn time that had followed where the world as he'd known it had suddenly ceased to exist and he was forced to accept a life that he had no memory of, that he never felt he could claim as his own – well, his perception of the sterile rooms with the soothing light blue walls had been skewed until all he could feel was that same uncertainty, that life never came with any guarantees, and that sometimes it was just too damn short.
He was getting too damn old for this. And that was something he sure as hell didn't want to admit to anyone. Not even himself.
He should be feeling lucky. There were no fractures, no need for surgery. He'd opted for the local anesthesia for the reduction, and was just waiting now for them to come back with the second set of X-rays, confirming all was back where it should be. Once they immobilized it in the sling, he could get the hell out of here. He should be grateful it was a simple fix, a few weeks in a sling, maybe some physical therapy, nothing too major. He should be grateful McGee was okay; that they'd figured everything out; that the perpetrator was going to live long enough to face trial; that two hired killers were no longer able to offer their services; that their witness was securely ensconced in the safe-house awaiting the chance to offer her testimony.
He should be a lot of things. But really, he was just cold.
The doctor returned, and Gibbs listened with half an ear to things he already knew. He sat complacently as they immobilized his arm, grateful he'd worn the button down shirt instead of the polo, something else he'd refused to let them cut off, so at least he could have something to wear home. In less than half an hour, he found himself signed out and behind the wheel even though he knew he probably shouldn't be driving. He headed home on auto-pilot to his empty house and tried not to think about how he was well on his way to becoming exactly what he never wanted – a bitter, lonely old man.
Most days, it didn't bother him, but some days it felt as if he were on a downhill slide. He didn't spend a lot of time looking in the mirror, so the effects of time weren't as obvious to him. Not that he cared a lot about his appearance, but he'd been young when he started to go gray, and now mirrors only served to remind him that he wasn't thirty-five anymore. Abby had more than once told him the gray looked good on him, calling him her 'silver-haired fox', and while Gibbs appreciated the thought, it didn't help him on days like these, days when he was reminded that being young at heart doesn't really help in his line of work. Days when everything hurt, and he was forced to face the fact that maybe he couldn't keep doing this forever. And if he didn't have his job, his team, his quest for justice, than what the hell did he have? The beach in Mexico hadn't worked out as well as he'd hoped.
He walked into his home, shrugging off the jacket, determined to shrug off the self-pity he'd been wallowing in as well. It wasn't his style, not really. He usually hated it when he let himself get into this mood. Some days, though, it felt almost good to give in to it a little.
He lit the fire that was already laid in the fireplace and stood by as it came to life, relaxing slightly as some of the warmth finally penetrated the chill. When it was ready, he pulled the steak out of the fridge and tossed it on the grill, grabbing himself a beer. He hesitated before pulling off the cap, ignoring the ache he felt in his shoulder that told him using his arm right now for anything was a really bad idea, the need for the beer outweighing common sense. Making his way to the bedroom, he changed into sweats with considerably more effort than it usually took, foregoing the T-shirt in favor of the button down he still wore. Tomorrow would be soon enough to worry about wearing normal clothes.
He headed back into the living room and placed his gun in the box on the bookshelf, trying not to sigh. It would be a while before he'd be using that again, and he hated the feeling of not carrying, even if only for a few days. He flipped the steak, before dropping onto the couch and closing his eyes. It would be easy to just allow himself to put an end to this miserable day and drift off, and he did for a few moments. The stillness around him only accentuated the emptiness of his life. He'd gotten used to it over the years, but he'd never gotten to like it. This house had been made to be filled with the sounds of conversation, of the daily act of living, but now it was too damn quiet. He flipped on the television, turning on the news just to drown out the silence.
He grabbed the fillet off the grill, pleased to see it cooked just as he liked it, and thought back to the last time he'd had steak, sharing the meal with DiNozzo. The time surrounding the visit from Tony's dad had left the young agent somewhat adrift, but Gibbs was pleased to see he'd come through it okay. The chat Gibbs had with DiNozzo Sr. had been necessary, and he was glad he'd taken the time to do so. The man should know how lucky he was to have a son like Tony. He should know the kind of man Tony had become, the kind of agent he was. He should know it wasn't too late to get to know his son.
Gibbs knew a thing or two about being too late. He'd hated having to share his daughter's existence with that sorry son of a bitch, but he'd done it for Tony's sake. Putting aside his own pain was easy enough when he thought of all the crap Tony must have had to deal with growing up in the shadow of Anthony DiNozzo, Senior. There had only been hints dropped over the years – military school, reports rattled off to his father over the old man's glass of scotch, being cut off from his parent's money. Years of neglect that in Gibbs' mind were just as criminal as physical abuse. It was easy to see that the relationship shared by the two DiNozzo's would never have the ease of most father/son bonds. All that mattered to Gibbs was how Tony felt about that.
The conversation he and Tony had shared over that meal had left him in no doubt that the younger DiNozzo knew exactly what kind of man his father was. And Gibbs had been prepared to help him with the disappointment that knowledge would bring, but Tony had surprised him. There was no evidence that his senior field agent was distressed over his father's continued evasiveness regarding his lifestyle, no indication that Tony truly expected anything better from him. Gibbs thought back on the conversation they'd shared after the meal had finished.
"He told me he loved me." The quiet comment had come out of the blue as they had sat on the couch, nursing their beers, and Gibbs stopped mid-swig, turning to look at the other man, trying to hide the disbelief that by all rights should have been obvious on his face. He'd talked with DiNozzo Senior, hell yeah, but he'd never thought it had made much of an impression. Certainly not enough that the old con artist would lay that on Tony.
Gibbs finished swallowing, allowing a moment to get his mind in gear. "Yeah?" was all he prompted.
Tony sat silent on the couch, and Gibbs began to think he shouldn't have said anything, but still he waited. It wasn't too long before weary green eyes looked up from the bottle Tony held in both hands. "When I was a kid, I used to wonder about that. He never said it, you know? And I used to think, if only he told me he loved me, then none of the other stuff would matter. It wouldn't matter that he never spent time with me, never came to any of my games, never wanted to know anything about what was going on in my life unless it reflected on him. It wouldn't matter that he shuffled me off to whatever school or relative was willing to take me at the time. Because if he said he loved me, then it had to be true, right?"
Gibbs waited, unwilling to say anything that might keep DiNozzo from finishing his train of thought. They never talked about things like this. Tony was nearly as closed-mouthed as he was himself, using distraction, smoke and mirrors to deflect anyone from knowing what he really felt, from anything that might reveal the real Tony DiNozzo, hiding behind the mask of a clown. The fact that he was willing to share now, with Gibbs, spoke more of his trust in Gibbs and their friendship than the constant blind faith Tony demonstrated in their daily working together.
"Now, though . . . I don't know. Hearing it didn't seem to make any difference. Words are easy, you know? He was lying to me the entire time he was here, hell, he's been lying to me for years. Telling me he cared was just one more to add to the pile. It didn't mean what I always thought it would."
"You sure?" Gibbs had asked, not that he really believed any differently. He doubted the elder DiNozzo was even capable of the emotion, at least not for anyone other than himself. Still, if it would give Tony something he'd spent his entire life wishing for, maybe believing the words wouldn't be such a bad thing.
"Oh, yeah," Tony replied, confidence easily heard in his tone. "I'm sure. Funny thing is, it doesn't really matter. Not anymore. I used to think nothing would be more important than knowing I was worth something to him. But now . . ." he shifted restlessly, avoiding Gibbs' gaze, obviously uncomfortable in this rare moment of honest insight. "I think I'm okay whether or not my father gives a damn. I mean, I've got Abby, McGee, Ziva . . . " the 'you' remained unspoken, but the older man heard it just the same, "I know they give a damn, that I'm worth something to them. That's all that matters to me."
Gibbs pulled the now cooked steak off the grill with his left hand, slapping it onto the waiting plate. He could relate to that. If he were in a mood to admit it to himself, which he wasn't, he'd say that was a good part of what was eating at him now. The feeling that nobody really gave a damn. Oh, he knew he mattered in the grand scheme of things. Knew that he was good at his job, and that the agency was better off with him there; knew that his team cared about him, as much as he'd allow them to. Knew his father would make the drive up to stay and help him out in a heartbeat if he called. But it still didn't stop him from coming home to an empty house.
And, he realized in disgust, it didn't stop him from sitting there with a perfectly done steak that he didn't have a hope in hell of being able to cut up and eat. He tossed the plate roughly on the coffee table and sat back again, debating whether it was worth calling out for pizza, when he heard the front door open.
The sense of déjà vu was emphasized when DiNozzo came around the corner, laying his jacket casually over the back of the chair. Instead of beer, he carried a small white paper bag, which he tossed in Gibbs' general direction. The older man caught it one handed, giving his senior field agent a look that managed to be both curious and annoyed.
"Ducky figured you wouldn't bother to stop for your pain meds, so he called in a script for you. Picked it up on my way over." He clapped his hands, rubbing them together in anticipation. "Looks like I got here just in time." He reached for the plate, pulling out his knife and cutting the steak in half. There was no extra plate this time, evidence that Gibbs hadn't been planning on company, but that didn't deter him. Tony pushed one half to the side, ignoring it, while he concentrated on cutting up the remaining meat into small, manageable pieces. Once that was done, he walked into the kitchen, grabbing a beer and a plate. He walked back to the couch, spearing the remaining half of the steak, subtly leaving the plate with the cut up pieces in front of Gibbs.
"Good thing I got here when I did, or were you planning on gnawing on that caveman style?"
"What the hell are you doing here, DiNozzo?"
Gibbs growl, as per usual, didn't faze the younger man.
"I lost the coin toss? Drew the short straw?" Tony suggested.
"We figured someone needed to check up on you. Ziva's at the safe house with Nora. And Abby took McGee home with her to do the concussion checks."
Gibbs' head shot up at this statement. The youngest field agent on their team had seemed fine after Gibbs had pushed him out of the path of the oncoming car, though Gibbs had been in admittedly too much pain of his own to be certain McGee hadn't just been toughing it out. "McGee has a concussion?"
"Nah, probably not. Just a headache, really, and he probably wouldn't have said anything about it if I hadn't caught him riding the porcelain bus back at headquarters. Ducky checked him out, and thought it was more likely just delayed reaction from nearly getting the boss killed, but he figured it wouldn't hurt to have somebody stay with him, so Abby volunteered. Ducky would have come here himself, but he had to go home and let the dogs out."
Gibbs nodded. "Forgot he's still got those damn corgis. Too bad they couldn't have gone with his mother. She probably would prefer having them with her."
"I know Ducky would prefer it," Tony snickered.
Gibbs used his fork to stab a piece of steak, refusing to acknowledge the fact that Tony had cut it up for him. "Everything squared away at the office?"
Tony cut himself a piece of meat and popped it into his mouth, chewing quietly before speaking. "Nora's feeling much better. She's safe and sound with Ziva, who's got Agent Meyers backing her up. Sturgis is out of surgery - bullet's out and he's expected to make a full recovery. He's under guard at the hospital. Ducky checked Tim out when he came back and gave him a clean bill of health. Vance is smoothing things over with the Sec-Nav. So, yeah, I'd say everything's squared away."
Gibbs continued to work through his meal, not bothering with conversation, giving half his attention to the television in the background. He knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that there had been no straw-drawing back at NCIS, that DiNozzo had not only volunteered to be the one to check on him, the younger man had probably managed to talk anyone else who was interested in the job out of it, and the emotion this thought garnered surprised him in its warmth. But he wasn't willing to embarrass either one of them by commenting on it.
Tony pushed his now-empty plate away from him and sat back into the couch, keeping the beer in hand. He looked over at Gibbs, an intense look crossing his features before it was carefully hidden. "So, how's the shoulder feel?"
Gibbs pushed away his own plate, glaring at his agent. "How the hell do you think it feels, DiNozzo?" he snapped, feeling angry all over again as he was reminded of his current weakness.
Tony said nothing, just continued to stare at him as if he were analyzing the other man, and the scrutiny made Gibbs feel surprisingly uncomfortable. It was apparent DiNozzo had something on his mind, and Gibbs was torn between wanting to know what was bothering him and wanting to feign ignorance. He opted for redirection. "How's your head?"
A look of confusion came over Tony's face. "My head?" he asked, unsure if he'd heard Gibbs correctly.
"When I talked to Ziva, she said you'd taken a roundhouse to the face that knocked you into the bulkhead." He reached over and grabbed DiNozzo's chin, rotating the man's head from side to side, looking for signs of bruising.
Tony endured the scrutiny patiently, knowing it was Gibbs' way. "I'm fine, Boss," he declared, looking the older man firmly in the eyes.
Gibbs gazed back at him neutrally, assessing the truth of the statement, before he sat back, satisfied. "Just wanted Ziva to do all the work, huh?"
Tony winked at him. "You know it."
Gibbs did know it. Despite DiNozzo's well-earned playboy reputation, Gibbs knew Tony had a deep respect for women that made it difficult for him to have to strike them, even in self-defense. Not that Tony would ever back down from doing the job if necessary, but Gibbs had long ago observed the agent's tendency to let Ziva handle the physical fighting or restraining needed with a female suspect. It was a perspective Gibbs agreed with, and one of the reasons he liked having a female agent on his team.
He sat back and watched Tony out of the corner of his eye, taking in again the agitated state. There seemed to be a boundless energy surrounding the man even on a normal day that made him seem younger than his years. Tonight, however, he was nearly bouncing off the walls, and Gibbs knew if he had any hopes of getting to bed at a decent hour, he needed to let DiNozzo have his say.
He sighed. "You want to tell me what's on your mind?" he asked reluctantly.
Tony looked at him sharply, but the surprise on his face was gone before it had even registered. Gibbs figured the younger man was finally getting used to the idea that the mind-reading trick that DiNozzo employed with Gibbs went both ways.
Tony put his beer down and sat forward, leaning his elbows on his knees and clasping his hands together tightly. "What the hell were you thinking?" he asked baldly.
Gibbs was mildly surprised by the tone of Tony's words. There was genuine anger there, but damned if he knew why. "When, exactly?" he attempted to clarify.
"When you stood in front of a moving vehicle thinking that would be enough to deter an escaping felon! Haven't you figured out yet that you're not infallible?"
There was a time when those words never would have escaped Tony DiNozzo's mouth. A time when he did indeed believe Leroy Jethro Gibbs possessed superhuman abilities and a sense of immortality. Gibbs couldn't decide if he was glad the younger man had caught on to the truth. On one hand, he missed those days of complete hero worship, even though he'd never admit that aloud. On the other hand, he knew Tony's changed view was a result of the other man's maturity. DiNozzo had grown up quite a bit over the years Gibbs had known him, even if not everyone took notice of that fact. Gibbs also knew that even if there was no longer blind worship, Tony still placed an inordinate amount of faith in his team leader.
Gibbs did his best to make sure it wasn't misplaced.
Still, he bristled slightly at the insinuation that his judgment wasn't reliable. "Never said I was, DiNozzo."
"Aren't you the one who always says actions speak louder than words?"
"The guy would have plowed McGee down in a heartbeat if I hadn't pushed him out of the way," he defended himself.
"McGee never would have been standing there if he hadn't taken his cue from you!"
Tony's voice had gotten insistently louder, and Gibbs gazed at him, bemused at his reaction. "Relax, Tony. I'm fine. Just a dislocated shoulder. Not a big deal," he placated.
Tony looked away, shaking his head. He was silent, an agitated thumb tapping a random rhythm against his thigh. Finally he looked back at Gibbs. "You don't get it, do you?"
Gibbs tried not to let his exasperation show. He kept his voice calm and steady. "Get what?"
DiNozzo took a deep breath. "That it makes a difference whether you're here or not," he said quietly. "That we need you around. The team, I mean. Abby, Ducky, McGee, Ziva - we all take our cues from you. And if something happens, and you're not there . . ."
"If something happens and I'm not there, then you'll step in and lead. Just the way I've taught you to. Just the way you've already shown you can," Gibbs affirmed him confidently.
"And if I don't want to?" Tony questioned him, capturing his gaze and holding on.
Gibbs gazed back unflinchingly. "You'll do it anyway. Because that's who you are. That's who we are. It's where we belong." Even as he spoke the words, he felt the tension leaving his body. His job was where he belonged. It was his reason for being. And if he got to work with some amazing people along the way, people he cared about and who cared about him, so much the better. He reached out and tapped DiNozzo on the knee. "And I know you'll do a hell of a job."
Tony gave him a small smile, a look of honest pleasure on his face at the unexpected compliment, before he shook his head. "Still don't want to."
Gibbs snorted. "Good. Because I'm not planning on going anywhere anyway. Deal?"
DiNozzo nodded, before looking away, slightly uncomfortable.
Gibbs caught the look. "What now?"
"Listen, Boss, I just thought you should know . . ." he trailed off and stood suddenly, reaching for the plates, looking for all appearances as if he were about to beat a hasty retreat.
Gibbs shifted on the couch and jarred his shoulder painfully. Gritting his teeth, he said, "Spit it out, DiNozzo."
"I talked to Jack."
The blow-up wasn't unexpected, but Gibbs took perverse pleasure when DiNozzo still winced.
"Damn it, Tony, what the hell did you do that for?"
DiNozzo squared his shoulders and turned back to face his boss. "Would you have?"
"Well, there you go. That's why I did."
"It's a dislocated shoulder. He didn't need to know."
"Need to? No, probably not. Want to? Different story."
"DiNozzo . . ." Gibbs warned.
"Look, you want to be pissed at me, fine. But Jack's your father, and he cares about what happens to you. And whether you want to admit it or not, you could use a hand around here for a few days. Now, I'm more than happy to be the one to stick around and tie your shoelaces for you, but I know he's still feeling a bit out of sorts, and it would probably do him a world of good to be able to come here and feel like he's helping you out. And I know you're too damn stubborn to see that as a good thing, but it is. For both of you."
Gibbs glared at the younger man. He'd known from the beginning that it would be a bad idea if DiNozzo ever got to meet his father. That was the exact reason he'd left Tony behind when he first went to Stillwater on that investigation last year. The younger agent had managed to get himself to town anyway on some flimsy excuse, and it had gone down exactly as Gibbs had feared. Jackson Gibbs had been every bit as interested in finding out more about Tony DiNozzo as Tony had been in finding out more about Gibbs' father. The two of them had hit it off like peas in a pod. The seal on the friendship had come as they were leaving, and Gibbs found Tony wearing one of his father's sweaters and looking like Christmas had come early.
Having finally met the senior DiNozzo, Gibbs could hardly begrudge Tony a friendship with his father, but it was damned awkward at times. This was one of them, and he didn't want to let go of the anger over the young man's meddling in his personal life. "It wasn't your call to make."
Tony smirked. "I never said I called him. He called me. I swear, that Gibbs' radar thing you've got going must be second generation, because it's like he knew something was up with you. All I did was give him the details so he wouldn't worry."
Gibbs unclipped his cell phone from his belt and glanced at the screen, noting the number of missed calls, and knowing that the majority of them were from his father. He sighed, realizing that whether he wanted to or not, he was going to have to call him back. He glared at DiNozzo, who grinned back at him unrepentantly.
"Just call him, Boss."
"I swear, DiNozzo . . ." Gibbs huffed, annoyed when the younger man merely laughed at him. "What?" he asked, narrowing his eyes.
Tony picked up the silverware and headed off to the kitchen, snickering. "Nothing. I just love to watch the way you regress the minute your father comes into the conversation. It's like getting to watch a teenaged Gibbs on streaming television."
"Watch it," Gibbs called out threateningly, but there was no real heat behind his words.
Tony was back a second later, still smiling. "Look at it this way. If you don't ask Jack, I have no doubt McGee would be more than happy to pitch in. What with him owing you his life and all."
Gibbs shuddered at the thought of McGee being the one to help him out, and decided he'd give his dad a call once he got settled upstairs.
"Not that he shouldn't feel that way," Tony continued. "I mean, I leave you in his care for two days, and he hands you back broken? Guess I haven't done such a good job training him after all."
Gibbs raised an eyebrow, indicating this conversation really needed to end, pleased when he saw DiNozzo once again tune in to what he was thinking.
"Shutting up, Boss."
Tony walked back over to the couch, looking down at the still seated Gibbs. "You take one of those painkillers yet?"
Gibbs glared at him and grabbed the bottle with the childproof cap. He stared at it before handing it grudgingly to DiNozzo. "Not a word."
"Not a word, Boss," Tony confirmed. He opened it and shook out two pills, handing them to Gibbs who popped them in his mouth and washed them down with his last swallow of beer.
"Not sure that's what they had in mind when they said not to mix the painkillers with alcohol."
Gibbs glare intensified.
"But I'm sure that was really more of a guideline than a rule," Tony hastily amended. He waited as the older man got to his feet. "I'll follow you up and help you get ready for bed," he offered, knowing Gibbs would never ask.
Gibbs bit back a sigh. He would be glad to see this day end. He slowly trudged towards the stairs, turning back at the bottom step. "DiNozzo?" he called.
"No need to thank me," the younger man assured.
"I was going to say, you breathe one word to anyone about putting me to bed tonight, and I'll fire your butt so fast your head will spin." He knew Tony had gotten the real message when the younger man grinned back at him.
"You're welcome, Boss."