Getting up is more of an adventure than simply becoming upright ever should be.
And he remembers he got the shit kicked out of him earlier. His current exhaustion reminds him of his former—the reason for the shit-kicking—and he wonders how Gibbs hasn't noticed that his senior agent looks so dead tired most days that Tony's surprised Abby hasn't offered him her coffin yet. Gibbs' eyesight might not be the greatest, but he's got the best radar in the District. And he isn't one to tolerate weakness.
DiNozzo feels an icicle of dread begin a slow melt down his spine.
Does he know? Did Jenny tell him?
Has he known all along?
And stop that. Less thinking. More moving.
At this rate, you might as well skip that phone call because Gibbs will have retired (again) by the time you get out of earshot.
An arm tucked around his left side, his lip firmly between his teeth to keep from groaning and waking his sleeping lover—mark?—he stands on legs so shaky he fears he's invented a new dance move. He waits a moment for the room to stop spinning like a merry-go-round from hell and makes his way to the bathroom.
DiNozzo tells him to get his ass down the hall and out of her hearing in case she wakes.
But DiNardo's in pain and tells his tactical support to can it. Immediately, if not sooner, because he has a headache from the concussion, remember?
Ha, no. I forgot.
Could be the concussion.
He leans against the vanity because he's not sure if he'll be able to get up from anywhere lower but simply remaining vertical is quickly becoming a challenge. So the counter seems like a nice middle ground.
Ah, middle ground. The space between. I'd forgotten all about you.
Less thinking. More calling.
He looks down at the cell in his hand and almost throws up.
He tells himself it's the head injury.
Why are you even calling, again? Does this make sense? For DiNozzo? For DiNardo? DiNardo doesn't even know Gibbs. But DiNozzo does. Really knows him. And if you don't call, he's going to start tracing cells and breaking down doors.
But he talked to Jeanne. Maybe it's okay.
Maybe he didn't spook her, but that doesn't mean he doesn't know.
I should definitely wait.
But what's one more night to live if it's going to be spent in agony?
Maybe he'll just shoot me and put me out of my misery.
Works for lame horses.
There's an Italian stallion joke in there somewhere, but I'm too tired to find it.
He stares down at the phone in his hand like he's afraid it might attack. And he realizes he is scared. Not that Gibbs will actually hurt him. He knows that won't happen.
But something much, much worse might.
He might lose the respect of the one man whose opinion actually matters.
Less thinking. More dialing.
Much, much more praying.
"Where the hell are you, DiNozzo?"
First ring. And it's 3 a.m. This is either really good or really bad.
Maybe he really does care if I'm okay?
Maybe he's crafting ways to murder me without getting caught. He should call Abby.
I should stay away from Abby.
Don't call me that. Are you crazy?
It would be much, much more terrifying if you called me DiNardo.
"Tony. Answer me. Are you all right?"
If he listens carefully, he can hear Gibbs counting to ten. DiNozzo waits for the explosion of the Gibbs time-bomb, but DiNardo isn't surprised by the words.
DiNardo is, after all, learning how to have a heart.
"You sound confused, Tony," Gibbs says softly. "You called me. Are you okay?"
"Yeah, I'm fine," he says automatically, Gibbs' voice calling DiNozzo immediately out of hiding.
Gibbs sighs. "What did I tell you about that word?"
Beats me, DiNozzo thinks. Maybe you told DiNardo. He's terrible at taking messages.
Film professor. Not a food critic, not a lawyer, not a comedian, not a salesman. Most definitely NOT a receptionist.
"Tony," Gibbs says, and DiNozzo wonders where he bought the patience—and hopes he purchased in bulk. "Crawl out of that banged-up head of yours and talk to me. You have to actually speak to have a conversation."
"Why? You don't."
Wince. Flinch. Gag?
But Gibbs just barks a laugh. "I guess that's true enough. At least you know who I am."
All right, who are you and what have you done with my boss? Kidnapping an NCIS agent is a federal offense, you know.
I should charge DiNardo.
"Yeah, someone who's really, really pissed at me," DiNozzo says, pulling the control away from DiNardo even though neither of them thinks it's a great idea. DiNardo obviously handles his painkillers better.
But his ribs have gone from achy to stabby in the short time he's been up and moving so maybe they're wearing off. He remembers he's upright, decides it really sucks, and drops none too gracefully onto the side of the tub again, barely stopping himself from falling in.
"Well, yeah, DiNozzo," Gibbs says, sounding exasperated. But then softer: "But we'll get to that."
Better hurry, DiNozzo thinks, his vision going blurry. He braces his arms on his thighs and tries to concentrate.
"Is Jeanne still with you?" Gibbs asks.
The simple act of that name falling from those lips is enough to send DiNozzo's pulse through the roof. He tries to breathe and finds he can't, but it has nothing to do with the pain knifing him in the ribs on every gasped inhalation. "Yeah," he manages to wheeze.
And prepares himself for the onslaught.
"Good," Gibbs says, his tone changing ever so slightly.
Here we go. Prepare for bloodbath in 3… 2…
"And you're damned right I'm pissed at you, Tony," Gibbs says, having apparently bought only a single serving of patience.
But if DiNardo weren't sliding to the floor and trying to drag DiNozzo down to the land of the unconscious, Tony probably would have noticed Gibbs' use of his first name and saved himself a lot of panic.
But he didn't.
So he panics when Gibbs growls, "It's insane what you're doing. And stupid and reckless."
"But she—" Tony says, wanting to argue that Jenny's the director and he's just following orders.
"I don't care who she is," Gibbs cuts him off, his voice rising even though Tony had barely whispered. He wonders if he's trying not to wake her, and while he's glad the woman is a doctor, Gibbs is still seeing the bruises on Tony's side, still feeling him shake as he helped him into that exam room. So he says, "You shouldn't be there."
"But I—" am on an assignment. An assignment I took because I was feeling shaky after you came back from Mexico and demoted me with no more than a "What?" for an explanation. Because I wanted to prove to you, to McGee, to the director, that I'm good enough.
But Gibbs doesn't give him a chance to say any of that.
"Didn't think?" he supplies, but he hears the pain Tony's words and he softens his tone. He thinks of the anguish in Tony's eyes when Ziva was needling him when she should have just left him alone. "I know what happened, Tony, and I know what she said. But you should have come to me."
You have no idea how many times I've wanted to tell you.
Tony's head is in his free hand, and he's staring at the floor, feeling completely miserable. He starts trying to formulate an apology in his head to this man to whom he owes his life, but the pain and fog and shame are making him dizzy again.
"I'm sorry, Boss," he says, wishing there was a more appropriate word, one that could convey just how deeply sorry he really is for all of his deception and lying. A word that his boss didn't hate. "And I know how you feel about apologies, but this is big. I never should have gone sneaking around behind your back. I don't know what I was thinking."
Gibbs lets out a long breath, hearing how upset Tony sounds—which is unnerving in itself because Tony never lets his emotions show—and he decides to go easy on him. "Hell, DiNozzo," he says, pausing, thinking. "What's important is that you stay safe. How are you holding up?"
Tony blinks in shock, wondering how Gibbs has gone from royally pissed off on what has to be a personal level to asking about the mission. He wonders how much Gibbs knows and why he's not demanding to be filled in immediately. Must have talked to Jenny.
He feels a huge burden being lifted from his shoulders that he can talk to Gibbs, can lean on him if he needs to. It makes him realize just how hard these last few months have been. He flinches, thinking that as much as he hates lying to Jeanne, he's hated lying to his team more.
All the stress and uncertainty and anxiety pour out in his voice as he admits softly, "Not so good, Boss." Please help me.
Gibbs is seeing the bruises on Tony's pale face again and he says, "Understandable."
Really? It's okay? You would never let a mission go to hell like this. Why is it okay that I am?
"You took a hell of a beating, Tony," Gibbs is saying. "It's a good thing that girlfriend of yours is a doctor."
Girlfriend? Don't you mean mark, asset, assignment?
"Yeah, DiNozzo, girlfriend," Gibbs says, amused, and Tony realizes he said that part out loud. "Believe me, it's as strange to us as it is to you. But I'm glad you found someone, Tony."
Gibbs decides to go for broke since it's not likely Tony will even remember this conversation in the morning. "You deserve to be happy," he says quietly.
Tony's breath catches in his throat and he closes his eyes, fighting nausea that has nothing to do with the knock to the head.
Gibbs hears the silence on the line and wonders if he should have kept his mouth shut. He knows Tony doesn't always do well with kindness—especially from him—and then there's that concussion to consider, too.
"Get some sleep," Gibbs says. "And you should let her take you to back to the hospital in the morning. She sounded worried." And you sound like crap, but I guess that's understandable considering that you're probably in pain. Or on painkillers. But you haven't mentioned your fingers so maybe not.
Tony tries to think, but he is mostly just stunned. He doesn't know. He really doesn't know. Tony is surprised by the wave of disappointment that crashes over him. I thought it was over. It's not over. His earlier fears come cropping up again at the thought of Gibbs' and Jeanne's conversation. Just because he doesn't know doesn't mean she doesn't.
Even DiNardo would have known how silly that was—if not for the major concussion and even greater major confusion at Gibbs' soft wish for him to be happy. That in itself was enough to make DiNozzo start questioning everything he thinks he knows.
He tries not to sound terrified and can't tell if he pulls it off over the roaring of the blood pounding through his skull. "What did she say? What did you say?" he says in a rush.
"Calm down, Tony," Gibbs says, wondering why Tony sounds so panicked—and trying to remember the last time his agent had sounded that way. He couldn't.
How can I calm down? Did you say my name? Either of them? Wait, no. You know only one of them.
But did you say it?
And how the hell do I ask that?
"But how did she sound?"
Gibbs smiles, amused as he thinks he understands Tony's panic. "She sounded fine, Tony. Not mad at you at all. Just worried. And I didn't rat you out on leaving the hospital even though I should have. Not your brightest moment, DiNozzo."
You have no idea.
"But don't worry about it now. Rest. Let her doctor you."
"Yeah, okay," Tony says, his exhaustion catching up with him. He just wants the conversation to be over before he can ruin everything. There's still time. "Thanks, Boss."
He closes the phone and stares numbly at it, fairly certain he's done the impossible and escaped this hellish night unscathed.
He laughs bitterly at that thought, his soft chuckle driving shards of pain through his ribs.
Unscathed. Yeah. You keep thinking that.
He pries himself up off the floor and moves back into the bedroom, his eyes falling on Jeanne's pretty face as she sleeps. He fights the urge to just leave. But he knows he can't drive. He suppresses another half-hysterical giggle as he realizes he's trapped here.
In so many ways.
Why did I even come here? he wonders, leaning against the door frame, his eyes never leaving her closed ones.
Because I wasn't going to get it from anyone else.
Not Gibbs, because he's not capable—not with me anyway. Which is interesting because there was a time when I thought there wasn't anything he couldn't do. Physical, investigative Superman. Emotional cripple.
Not that I want him being nice to me.
It really does scare me.
Take his simple words wishing me happiness. I think I'll get over the broken ribs before I even come close to recovering from that.
Ziva? Yeah, no. She's more likely to kill me with a paperclip than offer me comfort. She's half the reason I'm here and not lying in a drug-induced heaven in a hospital bed. Doesn't she see how badly I want to answer her questions?
And then there's McGee, who would just make fun of me for screwing up my undercover op and tell me the thousand ways he would have done it better. And then possibly slap me in the face with taunts about my ability as a leader.
Abby? Yeah, she would be good to me. She always is. But she's too smart for me. She would talk me in knots in two seconds flat and then spill to Gibbs out of a misguided sense of duty.
But would it really be misguided?
And see where wanting comfort gets you?
She stirs and opens those beautiful eyes, and he feels like turning away so she won't be able to see straight into his anguished soul. He closes his own because he suddenly can't stand to see the concern and affection—and love—in them.
"Come lie with me," she says, closing her eyes again.
He obeys, feeling his throat go tight as she gingerly wraps her body around his. She's asleep almost instantly, but it takes him much longer.
And when he finally does sleep, he dreams again of Kate.
But when he looks down at her lifeless body on that rooftop, he sees Jeanne's pretty face staring up at him.
He awakens with a start, but not a scream this time.
He feels wetness on his face.
DiNozzos don't cry.