Not mine, just borrowing them for the moment. NCIS and its characters belong to Don Bellisario and CBS.

Spoilers: JAG's 'Ice Queen' and 'Meltdown', 1x06 'High Seas'

"Philly PD."

"Eighteen months, right?"

"There were extenuating circumstances."

- 1x06 'High Seas'

Tony sighed after he parked the car, he had made this particular trip so many times that it didn't matter that the starting point was different; he could get here on autopilot. Steeling himself for what was to come he made his way into the building, inside the walls were painted a soft white but every few feet there hung a picture created by a child. He had asked once about the décor and he was told by the medical personnel that it helped brighten up an otherwise depressing place and Tony couldn't agree more. At the desk he smiled at the duty nurse, he'd always liked Maggie.

"Hi, Maggie," he said giving her a tired smile, while Washington D.C. was not that far from Baltimore it just seemed like a farther drive when you factored in DC traffic and the fact that they didn't get back from the carrier until late yesterday.

"Tony, how've you been? It's been a while since we've seen you," the pretty brunette nurse said smiling at him; he was one of the floor's most liked visitors.

"Yeah, I know, it's just been a couple of busy months with a string of long and frustrating cases," he replied looking at her sheepishly.

"No need to explain any further, I get it," she reassured him.

"How's he been?" he asked as he signed the guest log.

"No change since last time, Tony."

"Is that a good thing?" he asked looking at her.

Maggie looked at him with carefully concealed sympathy, sometimes she wondered how she could do this job day in and day out. "Dr. Mitchells is going to talk to Susan later today around three."

"She's coming?"

"It's the eighth," she reminded him.

"Yeah, I know," Tony replied with a heavy sigh. "Is it okay if I just sit with him for a while?"

"Of course," Maggie said and Tony made his way to room 204.

Inside the room he took a seat near the head of the bed and looked down at the unconscious man. "Hey Dan."

"Mariano!" barked the police captain.

"Yeah, Captain?"

"Meet your new partner," the older man said without preamble as he gestured towards Tony and then walked away.

Dan Mariano, ten year veteran to the force, looked over at his new partner and decided that while he was young, he looked promising enough.

"I'm Dan," he said holding out his hand.

"Tony," the younger man replied as he shook the offered hand with a grin.

"Sorry that I haven't been around a lot lately, been kind of busy. We caught a string of cases and well, you know how it is…" he said lamely staring at Dan. Yes, Dan was well of how a case could quickly snowball into something more and before you knew it you were trying to catch a few winks in a quiet spot of the station after spending all day and all night working. "So I just got back yesterday, we were on a carrier helping out an agent that used to work for my boss with a case. He worked under Gibbs for five years and seems perfectly sane, can you believe that?" When the man did not stir Tony continued with his story. "It's hard to believe but it's true. The guy used to be a senator's aide, apparently no one, past or present, on MCRT at NCIS used to actually work in law enforcement except for me. I mean, my boss is former Marine sniper, my current partner used to be a Special Agent with the Secret Service, my last partner used to be a Special Agent with the FBI and the guy who had my job before used to be a senator's aide. Anyway back to the case, so it was pretty interesting as far as drug cases go. This group of Petty Officers that worked on the flight deck were turning up with drug overdoses and they showed signs of prolong drug use but their last random piss tests were all negative so how does a group of sailors with no history of drug abuse or drug use end up dying from meth? That's the million dollar question, isn't?" Tony looked expectantly at Dan as if expecting the other man to indicate that he should continue but instead he stayed unconscious and Tony frowned slightly before continuing. "Well, it turns out that their Chief Petty Officer was dosing them without their knowledge. He had these bottles of what he told them were caffeine pills to help keep them alert on deck but in reality were meth pills. So they weren't really lying when they said that they didn't take drugs, they honestly didn't know that they were taking drugs. Their CO gave them something that he told them was safe to take; none of them thought that he would betray their trust like he did. Guess no one told Reyes that a good leader doesn't screw over team."

"I don't know about this, Dan," Tony said uncertainly as they got ready. "I feel like we're the unsuspecting victims in a horror flick, you know the ones that go into the house even when you're sitting there yelling at them not to go inside but they do anyway."

Dan rolled his eyes. "Everything reminds you of a movie, DiNozzo."

"I still don't know about this, Dan, I've got a bad feeling about it," Tony insisted.

"You worried, kid?"

"Yes," Tony replied bluntly, "aren't you?"

Tony watched as a troubled expression briefly crossed his partner's face before it was banished and replaced with a serious but confident one. "Yes, but don't worry, I won't let anything happen to you. Besides, Susan would kill me if I did let something happen to you, she says that you're her favorite," he told Tony brightly and that brought a smile to the younger man's face.

"So anyway, Maggie—you'd like Maggie, Dan, she says that you're one of her favorite patients—said that Susan would be coming by. I wonder if she's going to bring Ryan, he's gotten so big, Dan, you would hardly recognize him now," Tony said with an edge of bitterness to his voice. Of course Dan wouldn't recognize his son, the kid had barely turned one when it happened, he was five now. "He was really into ships last time I saw him and he was psyched when he found out that I worked at the Navy Yard because as he put it: 'You have lots of boats near you, Tony!' So I, uh, brought him an NCIS cap from the gift shop," Tony said he looked down at the child-size cap he had taken out of his backpack, "because you know how well bribery works on your son."

"Are you sure he'll like me?" asked Tony worriedly.

"Ryan's one, Tony, he likes everyone."

"It's just that I don't have the greatest track record with kids, Dan," Tony replied as he looked down at the toy truck wrapped in brightly colored wrapping paper, the sales associate had assured him that it was an appropriate gift for a boy who was turning one and Tony took her word for it.

"You'll be fine," Dan said as he practically pushed Tony onto the deck where the party was. Tony saw a woman with copper hair off to the side observing the small gaggle of children that had congregated in the center of the deck, he had only seen her once or twice from across the squad room but he knew immediately that she was Susan, Dan's wife. When she noticed the two men she smiled brightly at them and pointed them out to a little boy with blond hair who made a beeline for them once he set eyes on them.

"Daddy!" cried the little boy as he practically launched himself at Dan.

"Hey, Buddy!" exclaimed Dan as he scooped up his son. "Ryan, I want you to meet someone, this is Tony, he works with me," he told the one-year-old turning so that he was facing Tony.

Tony gave a small uncertain smile as he hesitantly held out his gift. "I heard from your daddy that someone was having an important birthday today," he told the child. Ryan looked from Tony to the gift and back again before deciding that he'd like to see what it was and in no time flat had torn the wrapping away from the gift. When he saw the toy truck he smiled and wiggled out of Dan's grasp before attaching himself to Tony's leg.

"Told you that he'd like you, Tony," Dan said smirking at Tony's bewildered expression.

"Well that's all that new with me so um, yeah…" Tony said trailing off. He always hated this part of the visit, the part where you ran out of things to say but couldn't or wouldn't leave yet. It would be different if Tony knew that Dan was aware of anything that went on around him but Tony was not so sure. It had been almost five years and Dan had not improved but he had not gotten worse either, he was just there stuck in a persistent vegetative state. Sometimes Tony wondered if Dan would have been better off if he had died that day. 'Stop that,' he berated himself, 'would thinking that it would have been easier if Dan had died be easier for Susan or for Ryan?' asked a voice in the back of Tony's head and in that moment he could not have hated himself more.

"No, no, no, no, no!" cried Tony as he practically skidded to a halt on his knees after taking out the two guys that had been shooting at them. Frantically he pressed down hard on the gunshot wound thanking whatever deity had the foresight to move up his first aid recertification; at least it was all still fresh in his mind. After the initial bout of panic he managed to get his wits about him enough to grab the discarded radio by Dan's left hand. "This is Officer DiNozzo from the organized crime unit, I need a bus; we have an officer down!"

The sounds of footsteps roused Tony from his memories and he looked up to see Susan and Ryan in the doorway.

"Susan, hi," he greeted trying to hide his surprise, had he really been here that long? A quick glance at his watch told him that yes; he had been there that long.

"Tony, how've you been?"

"Busy, just got back from a case on a carrier actually. How've you been?"

"Oh you know," she replied and Tony nodded even though he really didn't know. Dr. Mitchells chose that exact moment to walk in and Tony was so happy for the distraction that he could have kissed the man.

"So I'm just gonna go now since I know that there are some things you need to discuss," Tony said rising out of his seat, he was all too familiar with the HIPAA Privacy Rule and if Susan wanted to share with Tony what Dr. Mitchells said she would.

"Tony, could you take Ryan with you?" asked Susan hopefully. "He gets restless easily now," she said in way of explanation.

"Sure thing," he replied. "I've got a gift for you in my backpack, why don't we see what it is in the waiting room? So what do you say, Ryan?" asked Tony as he extended his hand to the five-year-old who eagerly took it.

Outside in the waiting room there was a small area set aside as a children's play space and that's where Tony and Ryan found themselves. Ryan had immediately loved the hat that Tony had gotten him and was currently wearing it as he told Tony all about ships and his newest obsession, dinosaurs. He was in the middle of telling Tony a story that involved a Microceratops on a cargo ship—why, Tony had no idea but the kid was five, no need to spoil the story by telling him that a Microceratops couldn't be a ship because there were no ships during the time of the dinosaurs, or people for that matter—when Susan appeared.

"Hey, Buddy, can you play over there while I talk to Tony for a minute?" she asked her son.

"Okay, Mommy," the little boy replied before wandering over to the blocks and promptly sat down to play with them.

Susan took the seat her son had just vacated and Tony looked at her expectantly. "There's no change, the latest scans haven't shown us anything we didn't already know."

"So that's it then? We just wait for him to either wake up or die?"

"Yeah, Tony, that's what we have to do," Susan said sadly.

"How do you do it, Susan? How do you hold on to hope where there isn't any?" he asked her seriously, it's been nearly five years since that day and she still had not given up hope that one day she would get her miracle.

"There's always hope, Tony," she told him as she laid her hands over his.

He supposed that he should not have been so insistent on being in the waiting room along with the others since, as the doctors and nurses kept on reminding him, he really should be resting in a bed, not in an uncomfortable wheelchair but screw hospital protocol, this was literally a matter of life and death. So there he was sitting in the wheelchair with a very pissed off nurse glaring daggers at him instead of in the bed that they had prepared for him since they decided that they would keep him overnight for observation over his loud protestations. He had made it clear that he would go to his assigned room but only after they got news about Dan. The surgical waiting room was full of uniformed cops, Dan was well liked, with a subdued Susan holding a sleeping one-year-old in middle of it all with Tony close by as well, they had been waiting for close to three ours now and still no news. Finally as their waiting time crept closer to the four hour mark a surgeon came out and immediately Susan rose but not before making sure that she didn't jostle her sleeping son.

"How is he?" she asked looking at the surgeon with a mixture of fear and hope.

The surgeon noted the weary expression on the mother and looks of worry mirrored in each of the faces present and sighed internally. She really hated it when her patients were officers injured in the line of duty.

"The surgery was successful," she said starting out with the good news first, "we were able to remove the bullets and repair the damage."

"But?" asked Susan fearfully, she had grown up in a medical family; she could tell when doctors were holding back the bad news, choosing to give the good news first.

"Mrs. Mariano, your husband's heart stopped during surgery and while we were able to revive him there was a brief period of time where he was deprived of oxygen. We won't know what brain damage was caused and to what extent, but you should prepare yourself because the likelihood is that if he wakes up there will slight to moderate brain damage caused either by his injuries or the brief deprivation of oxygen."

"You mean when, right?" asked Susan slightly hysterical.

"Your husband's body sustained a large amount of trauma today, Mrs. Mariano, the next twenty four hours are critical."

"Hey Dan, so I guess this is good bye for now," Tony said a bit later after Susan and Ryan had had some private time with Dan. They were going to stay for a bit longer but Susan took Ryan to get some food for dinner and to give Tony an opportunity to say good bye privately. "Um, I'll try to come back sooner but I can't make any promises, with a job like ours you know how it is."

It had been nearly two months since the shooting but Dan had still not woken up, the doctors were still hopeful but Tony could tell that with each passing day the doctors were becoming more certain that Dan would never regain consciousness. He stood at the threshold a minute longer biting his lip as he worked the nerve to walk to Dan's bedside and tell him the news. Tony couldn't help but feel a bit guilty about his decision, like he was abandoning the first partner that ever gave a damn about him but he couldn't stay anymore, he just couldn't.

"So um, this is good bye, Dan. I'm leaving Philly, I know, I know you're disappointed but I can't stay, Dan, I just can't…" He imagined Dan looking at him knowingly and reassuring him that he really did understand and that he did not blame him for leaving after things just up and went to hell like they had. Tony looked around the room and his gaze fell on the brightly colored Fisher Price truck that he had gotten Ryan for his birthday. "But um, I promise that I'll visit, you were the first partner that liked me, never mind gave a damn about me, and I'm not going to give up on you because you didn't give up on me."

"Until next time, Dan," he said before getting up and heading back to his car and Washington D.C.