Ducky sat in the Dodge and tried to use the sound of the gunshots to determine which side was winning each of the separate battles raging through the property.

Being left on the sidelines while the dangers occurred, that was the most hellish aspect of a medic's job. Waiting to be called, to clean up, to try to save what did not need saving only a moment ago.

It was the waiting, really, that was unbearable. Because it was never true that nothing happened. Gun battles do not result in nothing happening.

This was one of the motivating factors that had led to his move away from the field of an actively practicing doctor, especially one associated with the military.

He realized he was both brooding and fretting, which was helpful to precisely no one. He resolved to devote his attention to the action down on the old farm.

Suddenly everything was quiet. One more shot rang out from the house. Then only infrequent shots from the further-off barn area could be heard.

He was supposed to wait for Anthony's all-clear. But –

Ducky cautiously opened the car door and stepped out, medic bag in hand. He edged a few meters towards the house, feeling ridiculously like a schoolchild considering disobeying the headmaster's orders.

Blast, he was old enough and experienced enough to determine when and where he should approach a crime scene! He started towards the house in earnest.

Before he could take more than a dozen steps, a new-looking red Lexus sedan silently pulled over next to him. Dr. Helen Berkley lowered her window and smiled at him.

He had left his weapon in the car.

"Dr. Mallard, a pleasure to finally meet you," she said calmly, inclining her head in his direction.

"Dr. Berkley. I'm afraid I can't say the same." Ducky nodded in return.

She ignored his rejoinder and coldly uttered, "I am against the harming of medical practitioners on principle, Doctor."

"A fact I am delighted to learn."

"It would be best for you to stay closer to your office for the immediate future, Doctor, or to take a sabbatical. I cannot guarantee your safety in what's to come if you continue to immerse yourself in such situations." She gestured back towards the farm house.

"Ah." Ducky fussed with his bag for a moment, eager to be on his way to find Gibbs and his team, but unwilling to turn down what may be the only chance they would get to hold a conversation with their newest foe. "If I may be so bold, what precisely is to come?"

"Retribution." The woman's voice did not get harder. Her face did not threaten, her eyes did not shrink to beads of coal. She behaved in a removed, cool way, as though she was giving a professional consultation. This routine, disassociated manner was frightening indeed given the content of their conversation.

"I believe it to be true that the person you wish retribution against is already dead, Doctor. The former director of NCIS was the driving force behind the investigation into your ex-husband."

"Perhaps the force, but not the tool."

"But without the force, what danger is the tool?"

"It is left available for use by anyone who may put it into action, regardless of intention."

"I can assure you that this particular instrument does not take instruction from any Tom, Dick or Harry that might wander by."

"Then he is not merely a tool, is he?"

Reluctant to agree, but unwilling to be dishonest, Ducky slowly replied, "No, young Anthony is not merely a tool. But he is not directly responsible for the tragedies that have occurred to your ex-husband and daughter."

Dr. Berkley issued a short, scornful laugh. "Do not for one moment mistake my own intention. I care nothing of the death of René. The man was a parasite, and should have been destroyed years ago."

"So you do this only for the sake of your daughter. But would she approve of your actions?"

Finally the woman's face tightened in anger.

"She's not here to disapprove, is she?"

"I take it you do not subscribe to the idea that a physician should do no harm."

"Ethics never saved anyone."

"I beg to differ."

"You will beg, on the ground, in chains, if you don't remove yourself from this situation. Consider yourself forewarned."

With that, Dr. Helen Berkley drove away from the farmhouse as Dr. Donald Mallard ran towards it.

Tony looked up as Ducky appeared in the kitchen doorway, suspiciously quickly after Ziva called him to declare the all-clear.

He decided to let that go. For now.

The ME went straight to Gibbs, who tried to brush him off. "Not shot, Duck. Look at the others first."

"Good Lord, Jethro. Perhaps you weren't shot. But what exactly was done to you?"

"I believe the section you are staring at was accomplished with a cheese grater, Ducky," Ziva offered helpfully.

Gibbs, DiNozzo and McGee all tried to hide smiles at this absurd normality, with varying success.

Ducky leaned down to take a look at Tony's shoulder, but Tony slapped him away and pointed back at Gibbs. The two agents engaged in a staring match while the doctor stood back sighing, then stepped over to McGee when he saw the large pool of blood forming around the man's foot.

"You can't just leave a gunshot wound as it is, without trying to stop the bleeding, Timothy. No matter the location, you are still losing copious amounts of blood."

DiNozzo and Gibbs both winced at the shriek their youngest member emitted as Ducky cut the shoe off, effectively ending their stare-down. But not before Tony saw Gibbs' throat spasm, as though he was trying to swallow but couldn't find the juice to do it.

Tony closed his eyes for a moment and blanked everything from his mind, including pain. It was a trick he taught himself years ago. It wouldn't last for long, but it was immensely useful for a few moments. With surprising grace and swiftness, he pushed up off the floor with his right hand and strode towards the kitchen sink, rummaging around in the nearby cabinets until he found a glass. Filling it with water, he turned back to Gibbs.

Saw that Gibbs looked cautious, torn. He licked his lips as though his body was desperate for the drink, but his eyes were steady on Tony's.

Well. This, he could fix.

"Director, would you please make a call and see what's holding up the ambulances?" Tony shot Vance a look that was, just for a moment, an honest reflection of his pain, exhaustion and worry. That was enough to make the man step out of the room as he placed his call.

Tony tried to call up a big ol' smirk as he brought the water to Gibbs, but he could feel his muscles disobeying his wishes. He probably ended up with some horrible Joker grimace.

Ziva smiled at him impishly and turned to McGee with great apparent concentration. Ducky was still absorbed in treating the bullet wound, and simultaneously giving McGee a lecture on the high likelihood of infection in foot wounds.

So there was no one else to see as Tony held the glass from the bottom with his right hand, Gibbs' hands shakingly placed around the sides as he made an attempt to guide it to his mouth. Tony went down to one knee so they would both have a better angle, and managed to keep his face neutral as he began to feel pain again – and as he remembered the bullet that had creased his calf earlier.

A small trickle of water ran down the side of Gibbs' mouth as he tried to control both his shaking hands and his intake from the glass at the same time. Tony let his eyes run over the damage up close. It wasn't pretty.

And it was his fault.

Something of his line of thinking must have shown on his face, as Gibbs shoved aside the glass and tried to find a clean spot on his arm to wipe his mouth with. Grunting as he could not find one, he used the handkerchief Tony had passed him earlier. With a smile at the back of his eyes, he reached around as though to headslap his friend, but he ended up leaving his hand on top of Tony's head, instead, as though he were too tired to complete the movement.

Tony set the glass on the floor without looking down. "Don't worry boss. You can hit me extra times tomorrow once you're rested up." He rolled his eyes around in a parody of innocence. "Though, you are getting older…maybe we better say in two or three days. I don't want to push you." Gibbs growled a bit and gave a quick yank on Tony's hair.

Tony made a show of jerking back. "Ow! Ducky! Gibbs pulled my hair!"

"Really, I don't see how either of you can have the energy to conduct any shenanigans just now. I suppose I should take it as a good sign…" The doctor's voice trailed off as he turned back to McGee, muttering about children.

Gibbs smiled, so Tony allowed himself to plant his ass back on the floor, momentarily satisfied.

A minute shift from Gibbs alerted him that Vance was behind him, done with his call and back in the room. "Should be here in five," he said shortly, staring or possibly glaring at the team scattered around the kitchen. Tony didn't turn around to check. He'd had more Vance in the past few days than anyone should have to put up with. Ever.

He stayed watching Gibbs, cataloguing every visible injury, until the paramedics arrived and toted them out of the kitchen, into the fresh air.

Looking around, it was obvious that Tremblay and his cohorts had roped the last of the hostiles outside – literally, Tony was amused to note, as at least one of their prisoners had what appeared to be a lasso holding him still. The four Mounties and two of the NCIS agents were sorting the bad guys into three piles: injured, dead, and ready to be hauled to jail. DiNozzo should have objected – based on procedure, the dead should have been left as they were to be processed as part of the crime scene. But considering the damn director was here and not protesting, and how big a fucking mess this whole thing turned into, there didn't seem to be much point.

Gibbs was on the phone with Abby now, assuring her that the team would all survive. From Tony's brief conversation with her before he passed the phone over, he had the feeling that he owed Palmer big time for keeping her from chasing after them.

Ducky climbed into the ambulance containing McGee, and they set off immediately. DiNozzo felt a major twinge concern at their abrupt departure; all the medical personnel on scene seemed worried about the kid's foot but he couldn't quite get a grasp on the details.

In fact, he was starting to get a little fuzzy. Must be from the damn paramedics working on his shoulder. They'd given him a shot of antibiotics that he distrusted. He glared at both of them for good effect, but they declined to dance away in fear. Actually, they were kinda pissed at him for refusing to lie back on the rolling gurney. He had walked outside, and now sat on the edge of the porch as they worked, Gibbs to his right, also having refused – well, most everything.

Ziva walked up to them, casting an inquiring glance at Tony. He jerked his chin towards Gibbs. He wanted her in with their boss, since it was unlikely the damn medics would let him ride with Gibbs.

She nodded, but Vance spoke up from several feet away. "I'll accompany Special Agent Gibbs to the hospital. Ziva, you can go with DiNozzo."

Tony's head snapped up. "No."

Gibbs interrupted what could have become a full-scale battle by awkwardly patting his agent's leg. "It's okay. I've got no problem with that arrangement."

Tony jerked to look at Gibbs, who was staring at Vance thoughtfully. Though he wanted to insist on the arrangements he had planned for, in truth Gibbs' eyes looked brighter and more alert with each passing moment whereas Tony was seriously flagging.

He was still considering whether or not to fight the edict when one of the EMTs settled the conversation for them by pressing hard on the bullet wound in Tony's shoulder.

DiNozzos don't pass out. But they can get very sleepy, very fast…

"So what's on your mind, Leon?" Gibbs questioned as his own bus sped towards the much-hated hospital. Seeing his team and getting out of that damned chair had done wonders for his state of mind, and the banana bag the medics set up was clearing some of the bleariness away.

Vance didn't reply. Gibbs tried goading. "Have a good trip with Tony, Leon?"

The director's mouth opened, but closed before he said anything.

Gibbs laughed outright. "Yeah, he takes some getting used to. But it's worth it."

"I do not understand how the two of you work together. You're hard to put up with Gibbs, but at least I understand you most of the time. That guy…" He shook his head.

"He's one of the few I've ever enjoyed working with," Gibbs offered.

One eyebrow raised, Vance returned, "He backed you down in there. He ever do that before?"

"Yep." Gibbs was still amused.

"Did you know the previous director offered him several assignments, including lead in Rota, and he turned them all down to stay with you and your team?"

"Nope." Not so amused anymore. That was a sobering realization, but not a surprising one.

"So how is it that someone strong enough to lead your team, someone able to back you down, gets offered a position like that and turns it down flat?"

"Offered him a deal a long time ago. Guess he hasn't got a better one since then."

"When did you offer him this deal?"

"Not long after we met, in Baltimore."

"His paperwork for his previous job in Baltimore is pretty thin. Transfer paperwork is pretty sketchy too, just his work history and your letter of recommendation."

Gibbs nodded, but did not feel the need to comment.

Vance waited in silence for nearly five minutes before losing patience and demanding, "So what the hell happened in Baltimore, Gibbs?"

Leroy Jethro Gibbs chose that moment to recline on the stretcher and close his eyes in comfort for the first time in days. His mouth kicked up at one corner as he allowed himself the indulgence of leisurely remembering his first tumultuous case with then Detective Anthony DiNozzo, Jr.

A/N - Well folks, that's the official end of OV, sorry it took so long. If you're not signed up for an Author Alert, I invite you to check back in a few weeks. I hope to start posting my pre-series soon (and with most of it written so it won't take a freakin' month to update!). After the pre-series, I'll be going back to write a sequel to this story that should pick up almost immediately where this one leaves off. Who wants more Mounties?